Bone chapel in Évora; Cathedral; Roman ruins; More headache, for me this time; Another long hike with the packs; Évora to Lisbon; The case of the missing hostel; In which I continue to refuse to buy hashish

The first and most important item on the agenda for Évora - indeed, the only item - was the Capela dos Ossos at Igreja de São Francisco. There are bone chapels scattered here and there across Europe. There’s one outside Prague, two in Portugal, and a few others. Things like this are the reason I’m in Europe in the first place, if I’m being honest. Once a goth, always a goth, it seems. We made the two-kilometer walk into Évora from the campground in the morning and found the church first thing. Évora is a UNESCO-listed heritage area for its historic town centre, and it’s easy to see why. Historic and medieval both seem to translate to maze-like and confusing, and such was the case here, but it was also quite charming - all in white with red tile roofs and cobbled streets (although that seems usual for even modern cities in Portugal).

The bone chapel was spooky and shivery. There’s an inscription over the door which reads (translated) We bones who are here await your bones or something to that effect. All the walls and pillars to about two meters are tiled and crusted with skulls and long bones stacked perpendicular to the wall. There are centuries of dead there - the town’s main cemetery was excavated in order to make room for new dead people, and the only thing to be done with the skeletons, naturally, was interior décor. The ceiling was painted in a gloomy montage of Christian imagery interspersed with skulls, and on the wall hang the mummified remains of a father and infant son, for no reason that was explained to me. Judging from pictures, the chapel in Prague seems far superior, but I was still very happy to have seen Évora’s chapel.

The church was nothing special, except for one nave apparently carved from solid gold, but the roof was accessible via a spiral stone staircase, and it was spectacular. The views of the town were excellent and the stonework was quite interesting. There was a sundial on the roof directly over the apse, which made me smile. In the centuries since it was installed, it had lost half an hour - maybe the church settled or the ground shifted, or maybe Évora was in a different time zone back then, who knows?

The day was very, very hot, and we’d been walking a long time. The sun began to feel like a spike being driven into my eyes, and I realized that I hadn’t really had any water, and that the glass of beer we’d had a little while ago hadn’t really helped much, and that my head was killing me. Midday headaches are much more Sheryl’s thing than mine - my specialty is evening headaches - so it snuck up on me. I sort of half-collapsed in the patchy grey shade of a small tree and dozed for half an hour, and felt much better when I woke up. We were right beside the ruins of a Roman temple. It was the usual rectangle of pillars that’s instantly familiar - if not iconographic - from a thousand photographs, so I felt almost blasé about seeing it, until I realized that, yes, it really was the first time I’d ever seen a Roman ruin. At that point it became a lot more interesting.

We had run out of time for Évora at this point, and so we walked all the way back to the campsite, packed up the tent, and hiked the packs all the way back to the train station - another couple of kilometers. It would have been so nice if the train station had had a left-luggage office and we could have left the packs there. No matter how hard I concentrate, the universe stubbornly refuses to arrange itself for my convenience. The trip to Lisbon was a couple of hours and happily a direct train, so no changes in tiny ghost towns were needed.

Our first sight of Lisbon was from the train bridge across the river. We jumped off the train at Entrecampos station and took the subway to the Praça do Comércio, from which I had directions to the hostel. My first impressions of Lisbon, as evening turned into night and we walked along Rua de Madalena - with our packs, up and then down a high, steep hill, were that it’s clean, pretty and cosmopolitan and that the people are friendly. We had a nice man ask us if he could help us, as we spun helplessly in circles, having come to the end of the street and not having found our turning. He couldn’t help us - the lane we needed was a tiny travessa not marked on any map and probably never noticed even by locals - but he was very nice and we appreciated the attempt. I finally called the hostel and asked for better directions. When we finally found the travessa, it wasn’t even off the Rua de Madalena, but off a side street in turn. We’d never have found it unaided.

By the time we finally checked in and dropped the packs, it was 10pm and we were wiped. It had been a very long day and we were up for nothing but a short walk through the streets and then bed. Unfortunately Lisbon is plagued by the same problem as almost every Spanish and Portuguese city I’ve been in - men who walk annoyingly close to you, shove their faces in yours and variously hiss, bark, or mutter the word hashish until you tell them to go away. Look, I have no problem with recreational pharmaceuticals, but I don’t smoke - anything. I ride a bike, and I keep my lungs clean, okay? I don’t smoke pot, hash, tobacco, cloves or any other damn thing. In fact - and you can call me rude if you want - I find smoking repugnant. But even if I did smoke, I wouldn’t buy hash from some guy in the street who I don’t know from Adam and have no reason to trust. He could be a cop, or he could be selling me a dog turd he picked up off the ground. Is anybody actually this stupid? I guess a lot of people must be, since I was asked at least half a dozen times during a short walk. It’s getting to the point where I want to wear a sandwich board around my neck that reads “No I don’t want your damn hashish, piss off”.

Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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