A Travellerspoint blog

Beja, not a major tourist spot

sunny 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!

Posted by Susan23611 01:28 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Beja 200kmSE of Lisbon

28 °C

Monday 11th July
Beja 200km south east of Lisbon
Leisurely start to the day as we had not confirmed our appointments in Beja. Since our €60.00 night accommodation did not include breakfast we went in search of a Cafe.It was not long before we found one that looked busy and that is always a good sign. A whole range of pastries,toasted sandwiches,yoghurt,fruit,juice and coffee on offer,obviously a popular spot for locals on their way to work.

As we walked back the city gardeners were busy trimming the lawn areas,workers cleaning the bus shelters and construction workers casually getting on with their work with no sign of safety gear except for cigarette in mouth.

Meetings confirmed,advice from desk clerk how to get to the train station and we were off. 2 trains later we arrived at Lisbon's train station,a very big modern structure with many eateries,stalls and post office. When Peter asked for 2 tickets to Beja he was received with a puzzled look,obviously not a popular spot. After consulting the timetable we needed to get the train to Fuchiera and the one to Beja at a cost of €18.50/each.

We had a couple of hours til our train left,we spotted the post office and so packed the many resources that we had collected and enquired how much to send approx. 5kg of books to Australia - the answer - approx €23.50.  Great so we sat in the corner of the post office opened our bags and added surplus clothing to the parcel.As you do in the RTA office we took a number and waited our turn only to be disappointed to be told that it would cost €123.50. Obviously something had been lost in the translation!  The lady was very nice and explained that if it is just books the parcel would cost €43.00 but it is a different price for clothes etc, also along the way they may open the parcel to check what is inside. Something to keep in mind for next time.

Still an hour or so to spare so we wandered across the station to the Vasco Da Gama shopping centre,similar to your Westfield shopping centres,lots of natural lighting and the usual type stores that you would find in such centers. If we had time we may have left some €s behind.

1.20pm we were on the train initially not sure if we had selected the right carriage,as locals don't like being messed around if you are sitting in their allocated seat! We did a quick search of carriage number and found we had the correct carriage wrong seat number! Mad dash to find our correct seats, settled and we were off.

Travelled through the city,on the bridge across the water and then into bushland. It didn't seem we were heading to agricultural country. Occasionally we saw trees that had been ringbarked for the cork, Portugal being the largest growing area for cork. In the gift stores there is many examples of items made with cork:- handbags, bracelets,eyeglass cases, purses, etc.

We arrived at Fuchiera it was like arriving in Barellan, a few locals sitting on the platform having a drink, most of the passengers remained on the train, we were the only 2 to get off, not sure where to go we quickly asked the Conductor who had got off for a quick smoke. He pointed to a one carriage train on the other side of the track and told us to walk across the track and get on. The engine was running but it was missing a driver ( he was standing on the platform having a smoke). There were 3 other people on the train; the Conductor,an off duty staff member and one other passenger. The driver finished his smoke and we were on our way. 15 minutes later the train pulled into a town similar to Binya and picked up one passenger obviously a mate as there was lots of lively chatter and hand shakes with all on board. The train was slowing down and came to stop which appeared to be a deserted town. The other passenger and all on board got off, leaving the engine running and they disappeared into a almost derelict building for a drink and another smoke, we were left wondering when and if they would return!

10 minutes later they reappeared, established their positions on the train, continued their lively banter and off we went. Found out later that the main train used to go direct to Beja and some bureaucrats decided it was cheaper to bypass it and as consolation, they put on 2 services per day with this 1 carriage. So the locals refuse to use it, preferring car or the more regular bus service.

By this stage Sue is getting worried, there seemed to be no sign of irrigation, no towns and no indication we were going to right way.

Finally, over another hill we see the whitewashed houses of the city in the distance and rows of grapes and olives along the side of the track.
Stopped at the station, after waiting for all the other passengers to alight (1) we ventured into the unknown. Had to ring my contact to get some hotel details and the kind ticket lady rang a taxi and told us to wait outside for taxi, No.10. Sure enough a few minutes later a Mercedes taxi, No.10 turns up and takes us the other side of town to our hotel, a new 2 storey place right on the outskirts of town. There is a clear definition of town and rural, there are now scattered houses on farmland or large rural residential, it is town or farming!
The main attraction in town is the castle on top of the hill and is dated back about 700 years and the town was used by the Romans on their way to the coast. We walked to the castle just in time for it to close, told to come back tomorrow. Wandered around the white cobbled streets, pretty deserted and not many restaurants open. We stopped at a Cafe/Bar in the square where they served drinks,snacks and provided bowls of water for the dogs. 2 beers and 1 glass of local wine at a cost of €3.60 was a fine way to spend 1/2 hour. 

Finally went back to our hotel for dinner where we were the only diners in a room capable of holding about 100 people, at least we had good, quick service. Nice meal to boot.

Posted by Susan23611 02:29 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Leaving Spain,welcome Lisbon,Portugal

sunny 34 °C

===Sunday 10th July 2011
Leaving Spain for Lisbon,Portugal.

Before we begin our journey to Portugal some notable highlights of Spain:-

  • High Police presence on the streets
  • Lots of Cafes and bars to enjoy a drink and fast food to 3 course menus
  • Lots of tiny avenues with boutique type stores
  • When shops are closed they are hidden behind roller doors,so when you wander around and the shops are closed (with their shutters down) it looks deserted.
  • Beautiful beaches, with lots of bronze bodies and bikini tops are an option.
  • Trains are a good way to get around
  • Metro buses cheap and a good way to get around
  • July is Sale time
  • Notable figures in history are honored with a sculpture
  • Balconies sprinkled with potted colour 
  • Farmland extends right up to suburbia
  • Outdoor Cafes still have smoking rights
  • Hotels in smaller towns have WiFi you can't assume the big city hotels have it has a free service
  • If breakfast is part of the accommodation it is full buffet style with plenty of fresh fruit
  • Pastries and croissants popular sweet treat
  • Common practice to stand at a Bar in what appears to be a window in a wall and drink coffee or an alcoholic beverage and chat with your mates
  • Expresso coffee is strong enough to give you a kick start
  • The restaurants start to get busy from 9pm shops are still open then
  • Siesta time from 2-4 shops close the supermarkets (Merconda) remain open
  • Mercat Central is where you get your fresh produce,poultry,meat,cheese,fish,bakery,wine and spices.[b][b][/b]

With breakfast not included in our low cost price accommodation we set off dragging our luggage for a 30 minute walk to the train station. A humid start to the day and we both appreciated a seat at the air-conditioned station cafe. 2 coffees and 2 ham/cheese toasted sandwiches costing €7.00 we proceeded to wait for our train.

Our bags were put through security scanner before we were allowed to make our way down to the platform.

This day was spent traveling by train from Castello De la Pana to Barcelona Airport. We then caught the TAPortugal plane to Lisbon (1.40min).This was not a budget airline, unlike Easyjet, this airline served strawberry and cream ice-cream, beverages including alcohol for no extra charge.
We caught the aerobus to the Centre for €3.50/each and after asking directions, we found our hotel, the Hotel Florida, which is listed as a "boutique" hotel, meaning it is a bit weird. Each room is named after a famous US movie star and has posters of that star and some funky fittings. We were in the Orson Wells room on the 9 th floor and it was white with red lamps, not sure of the relation with Orson. Had a balcony that we could sit out and enjoy the cooler weather here.
Almost all the taxis are Mercedes, some not too modern and some a bit battered and most a cream coloured.
Not much activity near the hotel so we got a bus down to the old town area were it was busy and plenty restaurants. The streets are paved with a white shiny irregular paver, quite uneven and slippery too walk on. The houses / buildings are all multi story, the older ones with wrought iron balconies. Plenty of trees along the edges of the larger streets.
Near the water so was a nice cool breeze. Looks very interesting so will investigate further if we get back here later in the week.======Your subheading here...===[/b]

Posted by Susan23611 07:26 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Castellon, relaxing on the beach

sunny 32 °C

Sat 9th July
Castellon de lar Plana
Having seen enough of Valencia, we took a punt and booked a hotel in a town an hour north of Valencia called Castellon de lar Plana, supposedly a resort town. Was a 4 star hotel for the ridiculously cheap price of €50 per night.
Took the stop train from Valencia and every stop during the 1 hour trip took us to a smaller or more industrial town and before entering the underground station at Castellon all we could see were industrial sheds. OMG, we thought, maybe this mystery stop may not be so good. No more confidence when there is no tourist info at the station and the map only showed 1/2 the town, and not our 1/2. We asked directions at a hotel and began a 20min walk along paved streets to our hotel, which was very flash indeed and looked good value for money.
Checked in and did the obligatory walk to the tourist info shop where surprise surprise, we were the only Aussies to visit that day (and for some time I reckon). Got a map and wandered about, checking out the old town and historic buildings, the usual grand government buildings and cathedral.
Must be getting to see too many of these as we soon tired of this, returning to the hotel, chucked our swimming gear into a bag and off to the beach. Is about 4 km and the bus is only €0.93 for the 1/2 hour ride. No need for specifics, just say to the driver "beach" and all is understood.
Same deal at the beach as Valencia, just with some added activities such as paragliding, parachuting, jetski, etc. The mountains are only a few km inland so there is a pretty nice vista.
Sue got brave and went for a swim (2 in fact), the water was warm enough for her to enjoy. You can tell the tourists (us) by the fact that they have the white hotel branded towels, just as well no one knows us here!
Had the obligatory post swim drink at a cafe and jumped on the bus back to town. A quick shower and back out looking for dinner, but only after Sue goes into a supermarket and buys some of their large shopping bags.
Found a nice restaurant in a little piazza, not far from the hotel and ended up ordering 2 plates of mixed meats, 1 with meat and 1 with fish, no salad or veg. Very tasty but quite salty. Sue was not keen on the Blood Sausage but did eat a lamb chop!! Getting to fit in with local custom, dinner at 9 pm, normally we have been eating at 7 to 8pm and are the only ones eating.
Very relaxing day and a pleasant surprise after the ominous signs from the town outskirts.

Posted by Susan23611 13:46 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Valencia, home of oranges

sunny 33 °C

Fri 8th July
Valencia
Peter went off to see some researchers at IVIA, a research and extension facility about 20 mins north of Valencia. Caught the local metro train, no trouble but the IVIA people forgot to tell me the facility was 4 km from the train and at 8 am, there are no taxis in a small rural village. After walking about 1 km I called into a factory and luckily the manager spoke good English and drove me the rest of the way.
Met the reseachers and went with them to visit some experiments in a citrus grove a short distance away, got to kick some dirt and look at some trees. Farms are even smaller here with about 6000 farms owned by 3000 farmers and most small growers have 3 or 4 farms of 1 to 2 ha and they spend 1/2 their time traveling from farm to farm. Very poor standard of living for these farmers.

More meetings, then caught the train back to Valencia for a late lunch of bread and fresh fruit that Sue had bought at the market. Most fruit is sold for around €1/ kilo, very cheap.

Whilst Peter met with his Ag Associates armed with the map I went exploring,being 9.30am shops were beginning to open however the staff were focused on mopping floors and cleaning windows. Obviously the locals know this and stay away it is the tourist you see wander in and out wondering why there is no service!

As I wandered around I observed Police doing their duty attending to a traffic offense, the Scratchie lady positioned on the pavement with folding chair and a board pinned with scratchies,she was kept very busy, Nonnis standing in the middle of the footpath catching up, tourists with confused looks trying to read the map in relation to where they were positioned.

As I meandered around not taking any notice of where I was going I happened upon the Redonda Plaza. This piazza is round as the name suggests and has little kiosks with craft materials. Sitting at a little table were 3 elderly ladies making lace with bobbins and fine embrodiery and having lively conversations with the locals and across the piazza to other stall holders. After admiring their handiwork I continued on.

It seems in Spain the Mercat Central is the place for your fresh produce,meat,poultry,bread,spices,oils and herbal medicines. This one situated in an old stone building with the original mosaic wrought iron decorative features. There were also stalls selling bags of snail shells, not sure why stall holder did not understand what I was asking, surprise!,surprise!

With my bag of goodies I sat at the cafe outside the Mercat where there was a group of people reciting poetry whilst being filmed. The area was not cleared for their performances as each member read and the TV crew filmed, people took little notice and walked in front of them,no one seemed to mind,I guess it was part of the scene.

It is definitely Sale time in Spain, every store promoting heavy discounts,consequently the shops were very busy. There are many low cost clothing stores,numerous shoe stores and one promoting 'an anti crisis sale!' So all looking to make a sale. Surprisingly not many mens' clothing stores. It seems it is a universal practice for men to wait patiently outside of stores waiting for their wives/partners and then given the task of carrying the shopping bags. 

3 wheeled shopping trollies seem to be the essential tool for shopping. All ages from Nonnis to the trendy folk find these quite convenient to store their our purchases.

Mid afternoon we did the good tourist thing and went to the beach. Caught an urban bus that got us there after about 20mins of seemingly going around in circles. The beach is quite different to those in Oz, soft fine brown sand, the water is quite warm and the waves, well it was pretty hard to find more than a swell and surfing would be a waste although a few locals were attempting to near the mariner with little success. Seems most people go for the sunbaking, hiring or taking their own chairs and lying back soaking up the sun, with or without their bikini tops. There are little thatched fixed umbrellas that can be hired to get some shade. There are wooden slatted walkways leading down to near the water and special sticks and wheelchairs are available for the disabled to enjoy the beach as well. Lots of people walking along the shore looking at or being looked at ! Peter showed of his superb Aussie white winter tan and went for a dip while Sue was a watcher of those walking by.
The beach is bordered by restaurants and pretty run down apartments, although at the far end of the beach there are flash hotels and huge high rise apartments. Had a drink at a beachside cafe to wash away the salt and seeing there was not much else happening we caught the bus back to the centre and found a nearby cafe to have dinner. Can get a fair meal and drinks for around €15/person.
=Your subheading here...

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Posted by Susan23611 13:44 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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