September 18, 2012

ÉVORA HAS BEEN A TOWN FOR OVER TWO THOUSAND YEARS. America, you got nothin' on Europe.

My dad and I went on a walking tour of Évora this morning, while my mother went on a horse and carriage ride through the town (immobility, though very frustrating, can lead to cool things like horse and carriage rides). The walking tours I took in London and Paris were all about two hours, and moved at a pretty good clip. This morning’s walking tour, however, was so. slow. We started twenty minutes late, and then the guide ambled through the town, speaking in a super calm and causal fashion, taking time to point out every cobblestone. There were many interesting things to see, but my American sensibilities were being tortured by how SLOW it all was. I can be still when necessary. I can even walk in a relaxed manner. But taking two steps and then stopping and then taking two steps and stopping and then standing and then taking two steps and stopping. Aaauuuugh. I left the tour when it started going into the third hour, convinced I would lose my mind if I didn’t start walking faster. My dad, however, was happy to take the whole tour and found every moment utterly fascinating. Different strokes.

So, Portugal is 91.4% Catholic. THAT’S A WHOLE LOT OF CATHOLICISM. And after having been here for a few days, my impression is that Portuguese Catholicism is kind of a downer. Every church features statues and paintings of people that all look incredibly pained. Or forlorn. Or pining. Or despairing. But mostly just pained. (One of today’s churches honored Our Lady of Seven Knives. There’s a large statue of a woman looking pious and pained, with knives sticking out of her chest, one for every wound that Jesus endured on the cross. Um?)

On the walking tour, we went into a bunch of churches and, you know, they are all so incredibly grandiose and beautiful and expansive, and maybe I’m just getting some kind of neurological cathedral fatigue, but they’re all starting to look the same to me. I honestly couldn’t tell you the defining characteristics of the churches I visited today. Stained glass, elaborate high altars, statues and choir stalls, granite and marble, gold leaf and red and blue, Jesus on the cross hanging above it all. Beautiful. But similar.

One of Évora’s main attractions is a Roman temple that dates back to the first century. Some of the temple has fallen, but the standing Corinthian pillars are in remarkable shape. Man, those Romans sure got around. There is evidence of their presence in every city I have been to so far. I’m looking forward to getting to the source itself when I explore Rome in two weeks’ time.

Also of note was Évora’s obvious Moorish influence, having been occupied by the Moors for four hundred years, starting in the 8th century. Really cool blend of culture through architecture.

This afternoon we drove down to the Algarve, Portugal’s famous southern beach area. (Side note: did you know that Portuguese Water Dogs are native to the Algarve? True story.) It was interesting to watch the land change from green, Mediterranean-style vegetation to scrubby, desert vegetation as we drove. And then to see the hilly and bare desert lands give way to a sapphire ocean… really beautiful. We checked into our lodgings (a little guest house, surrounding a central courtyard with a koi pond and a thousand potted plants) and then spent the evening on Meia Preia, a serene and idyllic stretch of white sand and gentle surf. We had delicious swordfish (mmm, butter) while watching the sun set, and then head back to the guest house to sleep.

Today’s Parent Quote of the Day…

Dad: This is weird. I have sand in my hair.
Kerry: Dad, you don’t have any hair.
Dad: I know, that’s why it’s weird.