17.07.2011 34 °C
Tuesday 12th July
Today we went our separate ways, Peter had meetings in the morning and afternoon and Sue got lost in Beja.
From a farming view, this area has only been an irrigation area proper for a bit over 20 years, with a very large dam being built in the east part of the valley. To start, the crops were maize and cereals but now there are large areas of winegrapes, olives and vegetables. Now looking at stonefruit and other permanent crops. The climate is very hot and dry summers and cool wet winters, av rain about 500mm so wetter than Griffith, but just as hot. The city of Beja has about 20,000 people and while it has a small university, the main business is agriculture and as farming is struggling, so too is the city, with lots of empty shops and apartments. There is still some building happening but a lot has come to a stop.
Wine grape crops are either hand or machine picked, depending on the winery needs and most crops are grown to a max of about 7 to 10 tone per hectare.
Peter went out to see some irrigation and crops in the afternoon including a trial crop of poppy (medicinal), organized by an English poppy grower who is looking to spread the cropping. Arrived back at the hotel about 6.30.
Armed with my map I was dropped off in the city centre, what a pleasant surprise from the evening before. The town was buzzing with activity:- shoppers wandering in and out of shops,others stopping to chat to their friends,shop keepers tidying their store and cleaning their windows it had a real cosmopolitan flavor. The centre has many boutique type stores with a mix for young,the trendy,the mature and the sophisticated. I counted 4 stores selling a range of cheap women's,men's, clothing,accessories,shoes and makeup run by Asian staff. Apparently these type of stores are springing up in alot of centers and are doing well despite the poor economy. I bought a couple of summer dresses and tops.
After wandering into most of the stores I found a cafe. As I was having my coffee and studying the map in search of the famous castle I was pleasantly entertained by a well dressed mature age gentleman teaching the staff a few English phrases. I thought this is the man I need to ask for directions to the castle. As he walked past I stopped him and asked for his assistance,with this he sat down and we had an interesting chat about the town,country and Australia. He said it was too hard to show me on the map and offered to walk with me to the castle.I told him I had to pay for my coffee and we would be on our way,he insisted on paying for my coffee by asking the staff to put it on his tab. Collected my parcels and we were on our way.
As we strolled to the castle he told me a few things about Beja and Portugal:-
- 90% of Portugal property was owned by 5% of the population,now the old folk have passed on and the younger generation not interested or can maintain the properties.
- Some of the larger homes or blocks have been bought by the Dutch
- Whilst the renovated buildings have retained the original features on the outside they have modern interiors
- The building near the castle opposite the Cathedral is where you go when you stop - it is the nursing home.
- Most of the produce in the supermarkets is expensive because it is imported.
- Whilst Carlos was born in Beja he was employed as an Engineer for a Canadian based company
- Be careful walking along the streets because Beja has 'mad drivers'
We reached our destination where the Tourist Information Centre was also located. Carlos had a lively discussion with the staff and it was all OK to visit. Not sure if there was an entry fee or whether Carlos weaved his magic again. Before we parted company he recommended a restaurant for tea that evening and hoped we would see each other again down the street.
The castle is basically a shell the exterior walls and the tower are all that exist of the castle. I walked the many steps up the tower admired the view before the tourist info staff ushered me out because the castle was closed for siesta time.
It was time to return to the Hotel to drop off my parcels and explore some more. Not having a good sense of direction I began my journey back. After 20 minutes I realized my surroundings were not familiar, I had walked off the map! Across the road I spotted a large white stone wall which looked like, what I thought,a resort. As I peered through the gates it was not a resort but a cemetery! My response was silence,lucky for me there was a florist nearby he pointed in the direction of the the hotel and I was off. Eventually I made it back on the map and 1.5 hours later I was back at the Hotel (it should have taken 20 minutes).
Peter arrived back and we went in search of the restaurant recommended by Carlos. I was confident we would find it because Peter was in control of the map. Pula da Lubo was located on the street level of a block of units. It was a gem! We dined Al Fresco, pork with grilled shrimp a taste of the local wine and it was a lovely night. Thank you Carlos!