595-600 : Exploring Industries of the Alentejo

595 – Thursday 12th 2017: Sao Pedro do Corval Pottery and Evora

It’s got to be said – we pottered our way around the pottery town Sao Pedro do Corval.  K bought some arty-fax and the almond cheesecakes won us over – was ever a maiden so ‘bowl’-ed over?  

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Some of the old furnaces … we saw a lot of modern ones in villager’s gardens, although the shops were mostly along the main road.

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A really pleasant but ordinary town centre, where we found the locals popular cafe/bar.  And sampled the MOST delicious almond cheesecakes.

Evora is pleasant large town to walk around – cathedral and Roman remains, city walls, aqueduct etc.  It is one of Portugal’s most well preserved Medieval towns with lots of Moorish influences.  Preserved as it’s riches slumped and investment (modernisation) ceased … so poverty kept the town intact.  The remains of a young man who seemed to be caught with his pants down climbing in through some gates – there’s no flies on him!  Overnight stay at the Intermarche – a GB van tried to climb up our exhaust pipe – he couldn’t have got closer…

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Unusually not Praca da Replica – most towns seem to have one, a bit like the Piazza Garibaldi in Italy, but Praca do Giraldo … Giraldo, aka Gerald the Fearless, single handedly defeated the Muslims and so got back Evora for the Christians.  He scaled a watch tower on a series of ladder spears driven into the walls and distracted the sentries whilst his Christian compatriots took the town with little fight.

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Gerald the Fearless?  And what is that growing out of your flies?

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The cathedral was built on fortress lines with asymmetrical towers. Vasco da Gama’s ship’s flags were blessed here.

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The Roman Temple (thought to be to Diana) was at one point used as a slaughterhouse.  The dome behind is on the rear of the cathedral.

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Overnight stay … the Frenchman on the right was first, then us on the left … so why did the other Brit park just quite so close to us … most un-British!


596 – Friday 13th January:  Vila Vicosa

Home of the Dukes of Braganza – last Kings of Portugal – one assassinated with his heir in 1908.  Fabulous Ducal Palace – excellent tour inside supposed to be in Portuguese, but in English as the other visitors were Amercian and English speaking Portuguese … so lucky we were.  Pity no internal photos although one of our group didn’t seem to quite appreciate the rules… Sumptuous carpets and rugs from Persia and Portugal – ornate wood carved seats and desks – cosmopolitan furniture. Shades of Versailles, here.  We learned that “tea” means “transport, ‘erbs’ and ‘aromatic’…  Afternoon tea is a custom brought to England by Catherine of Braganza who married Charles II – he was a philanderer, so she had all the ladies to tea so she could see who was absent and therefore his current flame.

The main industry around here is marble excavation and preparation.  A lot of Portuguese marble goes overseas, particularly to Italy.  The pavements and most walls are all made from marble.  The town has a lovely soft glow as a result. 

We left Oscar in Jez for a second time whilst we lunched … wind too cold for outside eating on a local dish of roast pork cuts with clams and sea bass.  Doggy bag taken away to be made into a casserole for tomorrow’s supper.

We intended overnighting in a car park at the castle – young lovers started to arrive – Friday night is party night – we bolted to the Baragem Lucifer – well – Lucefi – nothing evil about it … just us, full moon and starlit night – perfect.

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Another Praca da Republic, looking back to the castle that the Duke of Braganza found to be uncomfortable, so had this built from 1501 …

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… The Palace Square and Ducal Palace:  the Square alone covers 16,000 sq metres.  We saw about 35 rooms, only 20% of the whole.  In the centre is a statute of Joao IV, who had the ground floor of the Palace built.  It was used as a Summer Palace / Hunting Lodge once the Braganzas became the premier royal family.  Some of the furniture went to Lisbon and some to Brazil, when the royal family escaped there during Spanish occupation and liked it so much they stayed a long time, but there is some wonderful carved furniture, carpets (incl. Persian and local from Arraiolas), tapestries and some wonderful porcelain.   The last King and Queens’s bedrooms contained hairbrushes etc, as Dom Carlos and his heir left in the morning for Lisbon in 1908 and never came back – assassinated.

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The other side of the Square.

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The Knot Gate, a symbol of the Braganzas in marble and granite.

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The Pillory … will I get a whipping?  It was described as having some great frog stonework … but even with imagination we could not see them.

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With so much marble being excavated, the downside are the massive holes in the ground and slag heaps of rubbish stone – seen here on the horizon.  When we first saw some waste piles, they looked like a town that had been demolished.

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Don’t jump … you’re not insured!  We walked the castle ramparts, whilst keeping our lemming dog on a tight leash.  

A large perimeter, containing the main church with some more lovely tiles and houses.  We did not fancy the museum containing all the Braganza hunting trophies!

 

597 – Saturday 14th January:  Sitting Still But Not Being Still

We had a most amazing peaceful night’s sleep.  A slow start to the morning, followed by a run and Pilates on the banks of the barragem (lake).  We ended up not moving the van and staying a second night.  We cleaned Jez, pottered, played some cards and I managed to do a big chunk of knitting.  Sometimes you just need to be still.

 

598 – Sunday 15th January:  Marble Museum and Arroliles Carpets

We headed back into Vila Vicosa to the marble museum.  Only a small museum and the information was in Portuguese only, but there were some good images of the processes and some statues of carved marble.  There were some amazing huge panels, and I’ve told J I want our bathroom walls and floors re-done with marble … but not in Jez as too heavy.  The drive away was along the factories where the massive blocks of marble are prepared for floors and walls.

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A pastoral scene of cattle but with the marble slag piles.

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For my boudoir walls and floors.

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Massive blocks carved out.

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Boobs awry … in both directions.

We stopped at Arraiolos; home of hand made carpets.  We’d seen some on the floors in the Ducal Palace.  Given the hand working they are right out of our price bracket.  Beautiful designs of birds and flowers.  Many of these towns are centred around a single industry, be it marble, pottery or carpets, and they are pretty much the only form of employment.

We then shot across the River Tagus to about 35 km north of Lisbon.  We are on a way to spend a good few days in Lisbon; our friend Alison is joining us for a week.  We spent the night at another Intermarche … they have embraced motorhomes with dedicated parking and some have food services.  Shame Tesco has has not gone the same route.  I did a big shop ready for our visitor and managed to spend half the spend on booze!!!

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Arraiolos has a castle, but we did not head up that way … seen quite a few.  We had a coffee and cake and wandered the streets.

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My view from the cafe – faded blue and white church behind modern water jets.

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Oscar’s turn at the pillory.

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One retailer told me that the wool comes from further north in Portugal.

599 – Monday 16th January:  And So Onto Lisbon

We drove via the airport to pick up a Ford Fiesta hire car so we can get around with the dog for a week.  We drove the short hop to the campsite.  As I am flying home to see my Munchkin a few days after Alison leaves, so we’ve decided to stay on the campsite a few days longer … they offered a whopping 40% discount for 15 nights … so this is how long we will be here.

I went straight into massive washing load … did not manage to complete it all … my drying lines were full.  Darks will go through another day.  Cold and tired from my endeavours so we tried the campsite restaurant …. not to be repeated.  Cold food re-heated and low quality.  But it filled a hole.

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Oscar KNOWS that I keep dog treats in my hand bag.  I left him for all of 5 minutes and when I came back he was wearing my handbag …. head and a leg through a handle.  No sign of the treats or the plastic bag.  Is this a sheepish look.

600 – Tuesday 17th January:  Lisboa Campsite and Collecting Alison

Another leisurely start. Chat to a French couple travelling with their dog and cat … van comparisons.  Then a chap approached and invited us over to introduce us to his two Welsh Springer Spaniels.  They are a minority breed and Oscar did look very LARGE and SOLID compared to his compatriots.  I took Oscar for a massive walk around the woods behind the site up to a mirador (viewing point).  It was bit of a clamber.  I’m OK going up, but dodgy knees coming down so I found an alternative route … still ended up a short way descending on my bum!

We collected Alison from the airport … her plane landed 25 minutes early, so we just made it in time.  A convivial supper back at Jez.

 

Oscar’s Diary.

Hello folks – I’m a bit nervous about this – new to me and all that. I know Mr Dimbelby interviewed me last week – and he was OK but, now it’s just me…

Where do I start?  Well at my previous owners – my mate George tipped me the nod that I was going to some new people (George and me didn’t always see nose to nose – we scrapped a bit – I always won though) and so I was prepared. Solihull was my home although I am a Welshie. They showed up on time with a motorhome – I know about these as Elaine has one, fortunately. The lady (Katherine) is a bit of a looker but I wasn’t sure about the skinny bearded one – he does have a nice smile though.  James they call him – fair enough for an Irishman.  Roomy van with an acceptable doggy bed for now – I’ll sort that out later, I thought.

Well, moving on by 4 months – they have improved and are responding well to my training – Katherine reacts to food treats and James is partial to red wine – I have to ration him nicely. I try to do a bit of training with them most days – but i’m also busy with my other bits.  “Whoosh”! Sorry, that was me sneezing – whoops – a piece of my snot just landed in Katherine’s shoe!  If it feels wet when she slips her for in – she will just blame James!  He dribbles everywhere…  

They travel a lot which is OK – but they mention a place called Scotland – up in the Arctic Circle – Eskimos and big bears…. Not sure – if I am in doubt, I will contact my local branch of the WSSU (Welsh Springer Spaniel’s Union).  I know the Secretary well – Mr Hatsu – (Japanese father) – I call him Dai.  

I’ve made some nice friends – Boo and Poppy (their owners come from Arctic Scotland – they do talk with a strange accent.) K and J tell me we’re a place called Portogooseland – the sun shines and it’s quite warm.

Now, they have started a bad habit – leaving me in the van while they gallivant about town. I’ve told Dai and he says that I should re-arrange the furniture and stuff in the van while they’re out and that usually works.  I did it – and got roundly told off!   I’m only trying to help – I even remade their bed – me being all nice – you just cannot please these human all the time… James used a word I don’t know – ‘feck’ – I need to watch him.

I’ll give them a second chance – we’re soon going to a place called “Lipton” (or Lizbon) – I think they make tea there – clever K9, me – I’m ejumicated – I passed the ‘11Plusall4s’ exam recently.

They’re coming now – I need to hide my KPad – and it’s doggydinner time – I do hope they get the portions right, this time. K has no problems getting her food portions in place – something about 2 stomachs – wine and ice cream go there…

If I get some reviews, I’ll keep writing, fellow pets.

Ta Ra and Yakkydoo – (I think that’s Welsh, sort of…)

Oscar

xxx 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

593-594: Monsaraz … Men-here, but no Dogs

593 – Tuesday 10th January 2016:  Luz Museum and Monsaraz

Early morning saw a lovely mist over the lake from our stunning waterside pitch. After a peaceful night’s sleep, we ran for 3k with Oscar (who seems to have recovered from his irreverent peeing of yesterday. We brekkied and set off to visit the Museo da Luz – leaving O in charge of the van again, having ensured that K’s coffee beaker was stowed away safely this time (last time, it had been carefully placed out of the way on the table; on our return it had been Oscar-up-ended … onto a seat … coffee drained).  The highlight of the museum is definitely the film of the relocation of Luz village – the original homes were demolished for the new lake caused by the Dam. We could write a lot about this film – it’s heartrending and we can only recommend it highly to any of our motor homing friends who may visit the area…

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We were parked up by the motorhome on the shore … one of our best ever spots.  And there’s a free aire in the village.

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The Museum had info boards in English with some bare details about the dam and flooding the reservoir, but most of the information came from the film with English subtitles.  It was very moving, as people had lived in the old village all their lives.  

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The new village was an approximation of the old in terms of layout, so most people had the same neighbour.  But the houses were not the same:  there were reports of bad build quality and people were left without large fireplaces where they would smoke their slaughtered pig etc.  One improvement J spotted was that the electricity cables went underground.  Of the 400 residents that were relocated only about 200 are still alive / here.  As with all these rural villages, many young people have headed for the towns so there are many vacant cottages.

We pointed Jez in the direction of Monsaraz – another mountain town (?) we thought…  No way Jose (not Mourinho!) !  It’s that word again…stunning even on the approach. We passed the first wild parking area as we had seen vans parked up higher. Got to the turning in and balked at the narrow entrance – millimetres wider than Jez. I walked up to do a recce and enquired of the chap in the first GB van about access – Norman.  He very kindly came to our van and sat in the cockpit to guide us up a different entrance – milk of human kindness?  Now our reader(s?) will gape at this – Norman is 80 and his wife Beryl is 90 – and they are virtually full-time and have been travelling for over 22 years)!!!  How about that for inspiration, fellow bloggers? They have driven across the Pyrenees in snow with our snow chains, went to Morocco without a map, currency or Satnav and got lost, but reached the Sahara Desert and travelled 2500 km – a Moroccan man offered to buy Beryl for 2 camels and Norman had verbals with some local policemen about having taken movies of police road blocks … he stated he would have taken a pic of the Queen and suitably impressed the policeman backed down.  To be fair, Beryl was only 86 then! And it was before her stroke a couple of years back in Denmark.

We then realised it was a collection of UK vans – 5 in all with some French and NL neighbours.  The parking is just below the castle.  Lots of vanny chats – and up to the town.  360 degree views – very narrow cobbled streets – no vehicles up top. I cannot use the word stunning again, can I?  How about “Stunazing” or “Amazunning” – that might scratch the surface… By far the most impressive hill town we have seen in Portugal. K bought some more rugs for Jez because a certain K9 likes to decorate the floor with sand – but, we do our bit too.  We were only intending to stay one night but immediately increased it to two. We only saw parts of the town and not the castle.  We will walk to some menhirs tomorrow and see the Castello.

Sunset with wispy clouds to spread the light was ’stonkingerazingesque’ !

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That’s where we’re headed … of course, I’d checked the route is suitable for Jez, James!

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Views can’t get much better than this.

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The Pillory and well between two churches in the main square.

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From every side street, a view of the surrounding countryside.

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The flags are at half mast because some days ago Mario Soares died – he of the ‘Carnation Revolution’ fame that ended the rule of Dictator Salazar on 25th April 1974.   

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The reservoir is quite unlike a lake as it has many many islands on it and the coast is not smooth, unlike a glacial or river formed lake.

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594 – Wednesday 11th January:  In Search of Mehirs and Lunch

I managed to capture some sunrise photos at 7:00 am this morning – the emerging light was ‘nice’ – or maybe gorgeousness personified.  We waved goodbye to Beryl and Norman this morning – where will their next adventures be?  Wish we had a way of knowing … so inspirational.

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We walked to see some baby Stonehenge-esque Mehirs – K and O posed for photos. It’s Spring and the little lambs have sprung. We thought we would spring a little Monsaraz restaurant lunch on ourselves – no!  Each of four establishments didn’t want dogs on their terraces – dog unfriendly – loss of revenue for them – money saved for Team Jez.  Lovely homemade soup in our van and knitting chats between Katherine and Rosemary from the van next door.  

The Castle of Monsaraz beckoned and an artisan shop for one more floor rug to compliment the two we bought yesterday.

Our two day stay has been one of the most memorable experiences of many fantastic journeys. 

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One way of keeping the grass down in the vineyard.  The region has some rather good Alentejo reds.

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Is that another men-here?  No it’s a fem-here.

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Coffee between menhirs … K basking.

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Discovered in 1970 and placed atop a granite base to take it up to original height … why are they so often phallic?

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Views from the castle.

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Oscar still attracting a lot of attention; this Brazilian showing me his dogs back home.

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The castle doubles up as a bullring.

 

 

59-592: Alentejo Sines to the Hills

590 – Saturday 7th January 2017: Porto Covo and Sines

Villa Nova de Milfontes is one of the best wild camping spots we have ever had – alone, views out to sea and cliffs (lemmings on the cliffs!), the sound of waves crashing during the night – slightly reminiscent of Capo Lo Vito in south west Sicilia for the sounds of the sea…

AM – K ran (too many wild dogs around though, so retreated) and Pilate’d – I rested – not really wimping.  We are still on the coast but now in Alentejo – now itching to move inland and back up into the hills and away from most of the tourists.

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The view that greeted us in the morning.

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Yes, we really were on the cliff edge.

Porto Covo – van services and relaxing coffee – we regularly remark that these days of sun would pass for high summer in UK and most of west/northern Europe – how lucky are we?  K:  It had been raved about by several motorhomers, but was essentially a very smart and touristy one horse street.  J went to see if the amply stocked newsagents had an English speaking newspaper… it had … The Mail, which said it all.  He left empty handed.  I spoke to a British motorhomer, they’d been here a month already as they had services, some shops and the sea … what more could they want, he asked?  Something to do, thought I that is not exactly the same every day.  I did speak to a charming Frenchman (in French) and we shared good camping spots.

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Porto Covo is essentially a street down to a cliff above the sea; brimming with cafes.

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A view from Porto Covo with industrial Sines in the distance.

Sines” – how many of you have jested that you “Followed the signs to Sines sinefully and after purchasing a Sinecure (for a late night) – Signed out of Sines?  It can’t be just us, surely!  

The town is a busy working port, with offshore oil rigs,  but pretty.  Vasco de Gama was born on the top floor of the Castle – a very impressive man according to his statue – does he look a tad like Henry V!!! ? K:  the guidebooks raved about the Vasco da Gama museum in the castle, sadly it consisted of a film about his life … but only in Portuguese.  We left none the wiser. A good romp for us and Oscar along the beach, ducking under the long fishing lines the locals had cast about 40 metres to the sea from the pavements.  As we left, our road took as along and over the wide river of oil pipes inland to the refinery … they were quite a sight.

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The castle at Sines looking out over the fishing harbour.

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Vasco da Gama was born in the caste here.  His father was the equivalent of the mayor.

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From the castle looking east to the industrial port.  Whilst J was in the museum, I watched a container ship lumber by.

Our overnight intended location was Santiago do Cacem – now Colin (CoPilot SatNav) brought us unerringly to the road in question – it was closed.  Never mind, we said – go to the next town aire – OK, team?   We drove around not quite aimlessly  – the exit route was also closed – and then we spotted – the Police Station.  K hopped out and received great directions from the Duty Officer who said “Ignore the no entry signs and drive on!!!”  It took us down a dirt track with a marvellous sump damaging hump where K had to navigate me forward inch by inch, having set off, yet again, all the local barking dogs.  Our location was to the Lousal mining town – and off we sailed again.  The aire in Lousal was well paved, level and quiet on the edge of town but private, with some houses around – sorted…

Fed, Oscar walked – we settled to sleep ‘perchance to dream?’   Now then, fellow motorhomers – what are the unwritten rules about townside wilding on Saturday – local party night???   Before we are deluged with replies – the answer of course is – you don’t go there at all…  The very close barking dogs started the party (well, their party) – then the quite close (within our earshot) local bar revellers – loudly – the little motor cycles we call ‘gnats’ – racing around in their only engine gear – ‘gnattygear’.  Around 1:00 am, a car entered our parking place (we were the only van) and parked close by. I was awake anyway due to the noise and I rehearsed in my head the ‘vanevac’ rules – we always leave the driver’s seat in position – face the car park exit, etc.  The car left eventually – at 2:00 am (?) and we breathed a sigh of relief- back to bed – to sleep?  No.  

Lesson relearned – more care of wilding on Fri/Sat/Sunday nights – always and everywhere – even in the country, ‘gnatspartyville’ can come and bite you on the bum!  We were reminded of Trapani harbourside in Sicilia a year ago…


591 – Sunday 8th January:  Lousal Mine Museum and Beja

Anyway, untainted – sorry, dotnaughtied – bugger – UNDAUNTED, we left Oscar in the van and walked to the museum at 10:00 am with heavy eyes – ours, not his – he slept through all the fuss…

The Lousal Mining Museum is one of those rare gems that is not even in our guide books.  We were only here as it had an aire!   Our personal guide, Andrea who is working full time whilst studying at University for a veterinary degree (she has permission to not attend all lectures); full of enthusiasm and superb knowledge.  It was like one-to-one tuition – we learned a huge amount – Belgian owners – treated their employees brilliantly (unlike the British owners at the Sao Domingoes mines, which we visited before Christmas. There were schools, a hospital and a maternity wing.  Workers were given their houses for free until their death.  As the mine only closed in 1988, there are still ex-mining residents.  Health and Safety rules were very different, even in the 1980’s – no safety gloves, shoes or protective suits – only hard hats…  and they worked at 500m underground.

The Belgian owners still own the rights to the mine and have been heavily involved in the redevelopment of the town as a mining museum and science learning centre.  At its height, there were over 2000 residents in the town, now about 400.  So how few residents had been out last night making all that noise?

Andrea also explained that State universities expect higher grades than the private ones, and are therefore better regarded.  Every town and village had a road named after the dictator, Salazar – these have been renamed 25th April 1974 after the peaceful revolution (white carnations in gun barrels – Like :)). Students learn English in Primary school.  And how there is currently snow in the North!

K’s photos speak for themselves!  

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The electricity control centre.  It supplied the mine and the local community.
 

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All the machines were kept so they could be brought back on line if a later engine failed.  They could still be run.

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The electricity boxes just still clinging to the wall of the roofless and collapsing building that once housed the women who worked a long conveyors, smashing up the rock and separating it.  They and the menfolk consequently suffered from silicosis.  

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The Green Lagoon.

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Even kaolin was found here.

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There were two mine shafts for ore and men.  This one for ore is right beside the departing building.

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Next, Beja – capital of Lower Alentejo – nice unassuming town – highlight – amazing museum in the  ornate old Convent – cloister tiles and love letters from a lovesick nun to her French paramour, which were published in 1669 – must have made erotic reading!  Beja municipal campsite was our overnight (no free motorhome parking) – ‘basic’ facilities but adequate – I mile walk from town centre – price with electric – Euro 6.96!!!  About the price of a small glass of wine in UK?  

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The tiles in the regional Museum, former Convent, were stunning.  

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Off the ‘net, as too dark for my hand wobble pix … and sadly it doesn’t do justice to the C16 ‘azulejos’ (tiles).
 

592 – Monday 9th January:  Showers and Serpa

Due to the basic campsite facilities, we showered in our van – luxury indeed – then refilled with fresh water and off to Serpa.  

A truly beautiful town – ancient aquaduct, castle (closed) – excellent meat/veg/stew/soup lunch – lunch with orange juice, James!  Having consumed most of our Aged P visit and Christmas / New Year booze to remove temptation, we are now largely on the wagon!!!  Drinkaware App being deployed!

We had noticed a lovely outdoor Nativity  scene set in a square – Portugal doesn’t bother with taking decorations down soon after Christmas.  Oscar – in his K9ndness – peed on the Nativity scene!!!  Sorry to upset you devout believers – but – the saving grace was – he missed (thank goodness the typing key for ‘p’ is not near the ‘m’ key) the baby Jesus…  

 A lovely place to wander … pretty narrow and cobbled streets and lots of open squares.

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Walking into the centre along the aqueduct and town walls.

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The Porta de Beja with its ‘nora’, Arab water wheel won from the Moors in 1232 … amazing how the wood has lasted!

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The landscape is gently rolling hills with cork, olive trees and cattle.  The hill top towns are really only hill top mounds, but this view caught my eye.  The roof top terrace was crammed with kitsch that looked like lego.

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A really tasty half “dose” (portion) of veal and vegetable stew in one of the many squares of Serpa … and yes, not a drop of vino in sight … that is fizzy organge!

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We had to buy some and I can verify it is truly yummy, if a little whiffy.   “Perhaps the most famous traditional cheese in southern Portugal, Serpa gets its strong scent and spicy flavor from the unique climate, soil and pasture of the Alentejo region. Made from sheep’s milk, the cheese is curdled with vegetable rennet and wrapped in cloth to mature. Inside the natural rind, the flesh is so creamy that it almost spills when cut. Serpa is one of the most genuinely crafted and high quality cheeses from Portugal.”

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And a queijada da Serpa – a cheesecake sort of cake … a bit of a a gastro day.

Now to Luz…. a town completely rebuilt after the Aguavera dam flooded the area in 2002…..

We have rarely, if ever seen a more peaceful wild camping setting near major water – fairly remote – 2 other vans in a large lakeside area – completely peaceful – and a mega beautiful sunset – can our life get any better???    Not a ‘gnat’ within miles…

More about Luz and the dam in our next blog….


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Luz was rebuilt when they flooded the local area … we are right on the lake shore…. as the sun goes down.

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