This is the second of my two posts about our trip to Alto Alentejo over the weekend — the first one is here.

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Sunday morning, day two of our Alentejan adventure. I awoke fairly early, at least by Portuguese standards, and steeled myself for an excursion into the outer world in search of caffeine. Even though it was already 8:00 by the time I emerged onto the street, it could’ve been six AM — there was no one about except for the street sweepers. That’s Sunday for you.

Luckily the cafeterias didn’t keep the same hours, and I quickly found someone willing to sell me a cafe Americano, although he was somewhat affronted when I didn’t order a pastry to go with it. “Only coffee?” he said in disbelief. Yes. Please. Now.

Once I was caffeinated and reassured that I might live for another day, I returned to the pensao to rouse Gabe from his slumber. We showered and went out in search of more coffee and breakfast, returning to the small cafe where we’d stopped to have a class of wine the night before.

As we’d discovered the previous evening, the owner of this establishment was quite a character. When I tried to order an Americano, he had no idea what I was talking about, exclaiming, “There’s already water in the coffee! Why would I add more?” Much chastened, I meekly took my cafe au lait to a corner table, where we proceeded to devour our breakfast: a “fruit salad” (aka canned pineapple), a pain do lait, and an excellent omelet.

As we were his only customers, the owner proceeded to regale us with tales from his past. He told us that he had moved to Portugal from Angola 35 years ago, fleeing the civil war there — a war I studied at length in grad school. Given the quality of his breakfast and the fact that he was a piece of living history, I forgave him his anti-Americano tirade — especially since the coffee was in fact excellent. I’ll let it slide this time, buddy.

At last ready to face the day, we set out to finish our Christmas shopping amongst the row of touristy Portuguese artisan stores we’d seen the night before. We completed our gift shopping with some amazing crafts and chotchkes for our families, and returned once more to the pensao, where we packed our purchases back into the car and set off again.

The first stop on our Sunday afternoon drive was at some nearby prehistoric megaliths, which included both a stone circle and a menhir. We drove down a long dirt road surrounded by cork trees (a main crop of this region), and parked our car practically inside the stone circle. Once again, no regard to historical preservation was given to these monuments, and we wandered about amongst the ancient stones, walking right up to and even sitting and climbing on them. Stonehenge this definitely was not!

Our drive then took us further up into the foothills, where we were inevitably drawn to the highest point we could see for miles around — which of course included a castle on top of it. How could we resist?

Within the thick stone walls of this tiny town, Evoramente, we found about seven houses, including three artisan shops and a tourist information center; a castle that closely resembled a concrete wedding cake; and a small restaurant perched on a cliffside with incredible views. There we settled in for lunch, along with a rowdy table full of Spaniards, who judging by their accent and the hour’s time difference on their watches, had popped over from Seville for the day.

Unfortunately they placed their orders just before we did, and when coupled with the fact that there was only one cook and one waiter, it made for a rather lengthy, leisurely lunch. My soup (an entire silver tureen full of it!) and bean salad were both long gone by the time Gabe’s entree finally arrived, but in the end, it was well worth the wait. Silence descended on both our table and the Spaniards’ as everyone single-mindedly and silently consumed their excellent meals, which in Gabe’s case was tender lamb and roast potatoes. Sadly, we agreed afterwards that it was better food than the best restaurant in Evora had been the night before — and for less than half the price, with a spectacular view to boot. Alas. You can’t win every time.

After lunch, we started our leisurely drive back towards Lisbon — with a stop in yet another walled city on the way, this time one made largely out of the region’s white and pink-colored marble. It was only a quick stop though, and we spent the rest of the afternoon on the road. The mountainous countryside we drove through was rocky and sparse, with a light dusting of green on the ground that likely disappears the moment it gets warm in the springtime.

As we reached the plain, however, things started to get a lot greener and wetter. It was down there that we saw one of my favorite things of the whole trip (second only to the bone chapel of course): nest after massive nest inhabited by huge white storks, which we spotted everywhere, from church steeples to high-tension power poles. We came across a long row of the latter about an hour out of Lisbon, and every single one of them had at least one and sometimes two or three, even four, of these nests on them, mile after mile. They were wonderful to see, especially since it turns out the storks have been making a comeback from extinction in the past ten years or so.

About twenty minutes from home, we made one last essential stop: at the grocery store. Now this may not seem like something exciting enough to write home about, but let me explain: we went grocery shopping… with a CAR! We didn’t have to worry about how much everything weighed! We could use a shopping cart instead of just a basket! It was wonderful. My mantra for the weekend was: I will never take my car for granted again. I will never take my car for granted again. I will never… go grocery shopping the same way again! Yeah! It really is the little things in life…

So we returned home, with a car much fuller than it had begun. Along the way, we saw modern suspension bridges, Moorish castles, Roman ruins, bone chapels, and prehistoric menhirs. We drank coffee and red wine; we shopped for souvenirs; we ate lots of excellent, hearty food. We saw cows and even sheep with bells on them; we petted friendly car park cats; and we saw giant storks presiding over their nests. We walked down tiny alley ways and drove down modern six-lane toll highways. We saw old men in gray wool caps and young women in teetering high heels. And all this within a half day’s drive of where we live.

Now we are back in Lisbon, and back to our daily lives here — at least for the week that remains until we go home. Coming back to our flat last night made me realize how much this does feel like home now, and that I will actually miss our little apartment while we’re gone. Even though it’s far away, this is our space for the next ten months or so, and that makes it home. Kind of nice to realize that, even as we’re about to leave.

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