Our initial impression of Beja did not inspire much urge to return, so we were quite happy when the matron of the house, Helena, suggested during breakfast that we take a day trip to the walled city of Monsaraz, located northeast from here, right alongside the Spanish border. Breakfast was delicious, and included homemade cherry jam and yogurt, eggs, pancakes and Nutella, of course, because we are in Europe. There was one other family staying at the B&B, from Lisbon, and we had a nice chat with them over breakfast, or at least Ana did and I tried as hard as I could to pick up enough words to understand a bit of what they were talking about. Ana considers her Portuguese dialect to be of the “back alley” variety, and the gentleman from Lisbon had more of a “front of the house” style so he was using a lot of words Ana was unfamiliar with, but she definitely understood the majority of what he was saying. I had vowed earlier this year to make a concerted effort to improve my Portuguese, but it was a total bust with competing demands, so the only real progress I’ve made is during this trip. Portuguese is a beautiful language and, in my opinion, a hell of a lot harder to learn than Spanish, which I do know, but it’s very rusty due to years of little practice. The written languages look similar, but when spoken, they often sound nothing alike. One day, Ana and I are going to spend six months or a year living in Portugal, which should be enough time for me to get the hang of it.
Driving through the Alentejo countryside was fantastic, and we stopped at a miradour (viewpoint) along the way for a spectacular view over the countryside including the Alqueva lake - a product of the hydroelectric dam built in 2002, which took eight years to completely fill (to over 100 metres in some spots), and is one of the largest of its kind in Western Europe.
How to describe Monsaraz? It is a walled city, built at the top of a very large hill with views stretching out for miles, even into Spain. The current population is about 100 people, which are greatly outnumbered by the visiting tourists (though not nearly as many as Obidos). It’s easy to walk around this place open-jawed with a phone camera out at all times, so you have to consciously put the damn camera down to enjoy the scene and try to imagine what this place was like 400 years ago, when people in the city were kept busy blacksmithing weapons, fortifying the city with stone walls, and transporting water and food up the steep hill instead of now where most of the current population were eating flaky pastries, drinking espresso, and flipping through travel guides, commenting on the uncomfortable heat.
Next we drove down to a beach area near Monsaraz, which was packed with flesh-baring Spaniards and some locals, all looking to escape the harsh temperatures. There were two beach restaurants/snack bars and we found one large table with only two people at it so we asked to sit down, which they happily agreed to.
“Where are you from?” asked Ana, in Portuguese.
“We are from Spain,” they answered, in Portuguese.
“Great, we’re Canadian, but we speak Spanish,” I added.
“Oh, well we both speak English,” the man countered, gesturing to himself and his wife.
“Well then, shall we speak Portuguese?” I said, which we did, but then switched to a weird mix of Spanish and English and had a lovely chat.
The lake swim was cool and refreshing, and the beach was jammed with people, primarily young Spaniards, as the Spanish border was just a few miles away. We stayed long enough to cool down, but since we did not have a beach umbrella, and there was no shade, we couldn’t last long under the full force of the hot sun, so we gathered up our gear, shook off the sand, and took an easy drive back to the farm, where we jumped immediately back into the pool.
While lounging, I had one of those moments that I think will stick with me for quite some time. We had the bluetooth speaker pumping out some nice reggae jams. The kids and Ana were playing in the pool. I was sitting on a beach lounger, directly under the shade of an olive tree, with a cold Sagres in my hand, with the feel of the slowly rising wind on my face, and my bare feet catching the odd splash from the pool. I’m not sure if anything could have made that moment better.
The tranquility was broken only moments later when Magnus found a half drowned grasshopper in the pool and put it up on the pool deck, then for some unknown reason called over Kima the dog, who promptly licked up the grasshopper, chewed it up, and chomped it down. The kids were only slightly horrified, but mostly just laughed because the grasshopper looked to be at the end of the line anyway.
All day long Magnus had kept asking/pestering/badgering me if we could go to the sushi restaurant he noticed in Beja for dinner. I told him no because Stella doesn’t like sushi and we didn’t come to Portugal to eat Japanese food. But he was relentless and kept asking me until I finally blew and said there was absolutely no way we were going for sushi so quit asking me.
We drove to a restaurant in a nearby town based on an enthusiastic recommendation from the Lisbon guests we met. We found out it was actually some sort of public holiday in Portugal, so the restaurant was closed. So we drove into Beja to try out a churrasqueira restaurant that also came highly recommended. Closed. You know what restaurant wasn’t closed? Yep, the sushi place. So that’s where we ate, despite Stella’s pleas of “Why does Magnus always get his way??” Fortunately, the sushi was amazing and Stella found some items she liked, and we had a great evening, despite being proved wrong yet again by one of my kids. I think I’m starting to get used to it.