Braving the castle walls…

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(One of the gates into the town)

We’ve moved about half an hour east and we’re at a new location, just outside the town of Serpa. We have never been here before. There’s castle ruins and the old part of the town is surrounded by a wall with narrow gates. Oh and there’s an aqueduct. We do seem to be finding very cute locations this year. Moving slowly for short distances seems to help. We have been in the region called Alentejo since leaving Lisboa and it’s full of atmosphere.

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(There be dragons!)

It’s not just the towns, I love the countryside as we drive through. It’s mainly agriculture. We’ve seen wine growing (well… vines) and olive groves and cork trees with sheep grazing underneath. There’s newly ploughed fields and rows of unidentified plants starting to grow. There’s drains fed by lakes and barragems to bring water to the fields.

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(Decorated by nature)

I went to visit the castle when we arrived and walked the narrow streets. I was immediately reminded of home. Back at the Rock of Cashel there was a lightening storm in the early 60’s and part of the (already in ruins) cathedral fell down. It was never moved and it sits to this day outside the cathedral door. Well something similar seems to have happened here, although it could have been an earthquake…

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(I walked under that! Portugal makes you brave!)

You have to walk under the balanced rock to get to the castle gates.There’s a museum with artefacts they found at the site, going way way back in time. I’m going back again tomorrow to see the original entrance, but I’ll still have to go under the balancing rock.

Do they have earthquakes in Portugal? Mairead.

Soaring at Soure

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(Cars go down this street… granted it’s one way)

We have arrived in a really friendly town, called Soure. Initially we had been pronouncing it Sewer but we discovered it is pronounced Soar – much more appropriate. There’s a castle here and if the torrential rain will just hold off for fifteen minutes I’ll go and get some photos and maybe a little historic information. There’s also a museum so I’m definitely going to that. Two rivers meet at the town’s edge and there are lots of old bridges, one particularly narrow. Thankfully they have put lights on it so only one car can go across at a time. There’s a library here too, with free wifi. Denis spent some time there yesterday afternoon, so I’ll have a look today.

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(Igreja de S.Tiago… big clock)

When Denis got back from the library we went off for a walk around the town, hopefully I will have pictures by the time you read this, if not,I can tell you: the streets are narrow and cobblestoned with old buildings. We stopped off at a cafe for a drink and when Denis got up to pay, one of the customers came over to talk to him. It was the chief of police (I think that’s what he said) and he wanted to welcome us to Portugal! He had brilliant English and he was very familiar with the history of the area and of Portugal.

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(Here you go, Grahame! From one police officer to another!)

He told us that Soure was given a charter by the King in 1111 for its critical role in the war against the enemy at the time (Moors I think). Our friend, the chief of police, had travelled a lot in his work and I guess he recognised that travellers like to meet the locals. We certainly liked meeting him. He introduced us to the Lupin bean, something the locals were nibbling alongside their drinks. Never heard of it before but it’s on Wikipedia if you’d like to find out about it.

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(Stained glass window in Igreja de S.Tiago. Now I’m wondering if that’s a shell on his hat and if Igreja S.Tiago is the Portuguese way of saying Church of Santiago? Is Soure on the Portuguese Camino de Santiago?)

He also told us about roman ruins at Monografico de Conimbriga, just 12 km from here. I’ve searched for them on Trip Advisor and  they look and sound very interesting so we’ll head off to those tomorrow. We chatted happily for about an hour and then Denis and I left in great form to find the local tapas restaurant. It was dark so not easy to find. I was hoping for a sign… when I looked up and saw a Guinness sign….right over the tapas restaurant! I guess that was a sign. We had very tasty chicken gizzards in a spicy pepper sauce. Yum!

Main message from our new friend: Portugal is very safe and you guys are very welcome over here! Mairead.

The castle at Alcácer do Sal

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(I took the scenic (i.e. scary) route to the castle)

We’re still at the campsite with the great washing machine and I finally went to see the castle. It’s not really a castle, just the ruins of the walls of a castle with little chapels and a former convent which is now a Pousada (fancy hotel) inside the walls. When they were turning the ruins of the convent into the hotel they excavated the area and now there’s a museum under the hotel.

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(Nice view from the top)

First up there was a video presentation (in English) about the area. Just in case I didn’t make it clear we arrived here by accident, someone posted a nice review about the campsite and the washing machine and here we are. But there’s something a bit different about this place and that’s what i learned watching the video… there’s been people living here in this town since 3,000 years BC.

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(It’s a very cute town)

That means the people walking down the street, the people we meet in the supermarket, the people serving our coffee, their families have been living here for the past 5,017 years (approximately.) Ok some of them may have moved here more recently than that (the Romans 2200 years ago, the Moors, 1200 years ago, they built the castle, the christian armies on a crusade 900 years ago) but there’s been people living here in this small town for a long time. I think that makes it very interesting.

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(I love this piece, can you see the skull near the clasp?)

After the video I went into the crypt part of the museum, it’s not very big but it’s really nicely arranged with plenty of exhibits. My favourites were the beads and the sewing tools – scissors and pins. I also liked the jewellery. There were also remnants of walls from the Iron Age, the Roman period and the Islamic period. It made me wonder what would survive from our house, from our stuff in 900, or 2000 year time…. probably the plastic storage boxes!

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Step 15. Less junk, less storage, Mairead.