Day 35: Evora to Couço - Grampies Go Valencia to Paris: Spring 2024 - CycleBlaze

March 12, 2024

Day 35: Evora to Couço

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Our hotel was inside the walls of the Evora old city, where the streets are narrow and cobbled. Something missing is sidewalks! That's ok, except when there are cars. They trundle slowly along on most streets, but there are some where they are going quite quickly. Old cities and cars were of course not made to be compatible.

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You might think the shot below is of a castle, and is marred by the cars. But in fact we are looking at the gate in the city walls, that we just came out of. And if I was crabby about cars inside the wall, I am just as crabby outside.

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Given the traffic around, our decision to start off on a rail trail looked good. The "EcoPista" runs from Evora up to at least Arraiolos, so it should have been good. It turned out to be great, but only as a well crafted Grampie trap. As with such traps, the beginning is well paved and a real joy. Then we degrade the surface, move to single track, throw on some sand, and bingo! they're trapped. This time there was a special zinger. The single track passed under a highway with a tunnel that was filled with water.  I took the risk of falling entirely into the water, by riding, while Dodie just accepted soaked feet. As usual with such traps, we made for the first paved road as soon as possible. For a time that road actually paralleled the track, before we left the track well behind.

Starts off great
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Ok, let's degrade the surface...
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degrade a liitle more ...
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distract the victims with some kind of goofy bird...
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...and switch to single track
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Now. put them through a wet tunnel.
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and offer this escape.
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This was indeed a rail trail - there is the station from the town of Graca. By now though, we are looking at it from the parallel real road.
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The real road to Graca
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We continued on decent road, past the little town of Ilhas. As with all these towns, it is comprised of white houses with orange roofs.

Ilhas
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Just beyond Ilhas, this picturesque but mystery tower.
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Bill ShaneyfeltMaybe a retired windmill?
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Karen PoretTo Bill ShaneyfeltOr, an observatory?
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A little beyond Ilhas. we encountered the town of Arraiolos. This presented itself as a castle on a hill, with houses spread out below.

Arraiolos
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The castle in closeup.
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Our route took us through the main square of the town. Despite Dodie having read a little bit, we were unaware of the great thing we were about to discover. This ranks as one of those Grampies' lucky breaks, and here is the thing: In 1496 Portugal's Muslims were expelled from the country, unless they would convert to Christianity. At the time, Lisbon had a Muslim rug making industry, rooted in designs and methods from Morocco. Also the town of Arraiolo had the facility to do dying. The Lisbon Muslims migrated to here (a religiously more tolerant area), and kick started a rug industry that last until the 19th century, when it declined. But it had a renaissance in the 20th century, and remains famous today. All this according to a pamphlet we picked up at a recently opened museum and interpretation centre, located in the central square.

But our first hint that something special was afoot was in seeing a number of rug shops on the side street we approached by. Typically these would have a rug hanging outside:

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We went in to one shop in particular, and found not only the artisan at work, but a very beautiful interior.

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Karen PoretWith suitcases hanging on the wall..interesting!
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Karen PoretAnd a Piet Mondrian pillow, houndstooth runner and pillow, and Christmas stockings. A little bit of everything ..:)
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This particular lady had somehow managed to make a gift of a carpet to Pope Francis (need to do some reading to find out the background to that), and scored a photo of the great one with her carpet, something to mount on the front of the shop. (I assume the thing was not Photoshopped!).

The Pope and the local carpet.
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We proceeded on into the square, looking down a side street complete with a walker with cane, and arriving at the (required) cluster of old boys standing around.

Street and walker
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Old boys and carpet posters.
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At one end of the square was a building with a fresco, that Dodie immediately identified as picturing dye pots. She was very right. In fact we would soon learn that the dye pots had filled this very square.

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The fresco
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Looking down the square across where the dye pots had been.
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At the far end is this character building, that seems to house the carpet coop.
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Now that we have seen both ends of the square, a look to one side reveals the carpet museum. We usually do not feel we have time for museums, but since this was also described as the Tourist Information, we went in to get a Camino stamp, at least, and so got drawn in. The museum covered the carpet designs and materials, how the village did the production, the use f local dyestuffs, the sheep and wool processing, the stitching techniques, and so forth. It was a little lost on me, but Dodie is an expert knitter, cross stitcher, and spinner, and it sure was not lost on her.

The carpet museum.
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A short film in the museum showed an aerial view of the square, the square being central to the carpet story.

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The film also showed various carpet designs. Hard to photograph the moving pictures!

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Inside the museum was description of the production, plus many images from the old days, of it all happening.

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Interestingly, on the museum ground floor, was an archaeological dig of the former dye pots. The museum building used to be a hospital, and that had a chapel. The dig was beneath the chapel, and so the display also included some chapel items.

Dye pots under the floor.
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From the chapel.
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While Dodie was doing her walk about the museum, I was out with the bikes, eating some chicken pot pies we had picked up at the bakery on the corner of the square. I was also reading the museum's excellent pamphlet about the town and the carpets, not to mention four others, detailing interesting walks into the surrounding countryside.

One of the first things that struck me was that my chicken pie was apparently famous:

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My chicken pies, and the pamphlet.
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Karen PoretMaybe Gregory Garceau will compare it to his pasty..;)
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Next, if you look at this photo about the dye pots, it shows exactly the buildings that I was looking at today.

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My photo from today!
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Karen PoretFascinating!
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Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Karen PoretThe whole exhibit was very interesting. Most people probably are unaware of this history when they pass through the town, as we were. So glad we stopped to investigate further.
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Other parts of the pamphlets are worth looking at as well. Note that they say our rail trail is perfect for cyclists. Sure!

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We have been very impressed by the countryside in the Alentejo, with the widely spaced trees, and the green fields. Scott wrote to us and gave a name to this landscape from Spain: dehesa. But here it is the "montado":

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Just a reminder, this is where we are at in Portugal:

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Having read the pamphlet, we went back to the bakery and asked for some of those typical pastries. We passed some more carpet, and a carpet mosaic in the street surface, before getting to the bakery.

A carpet hangs from a window.
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Carpet detail
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The street where the dye pots were.
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Back in the bakery.
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Some of those typical pastries. The lady warned that they are made with "pumpkin", and yes, they have stringy stuff, like in spaghetti squash. I am actually not so fond of that idea. Dodie liked them a lot.
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Leaving town, we could look back and see what a fabulous spot it is, and looking out to the countryside, we see how they wrote the pamphlets about day walks one could do here. The description about the "montado" also hit home, as it was all around us.

Looking back to a part of the town well down from the castle.
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Here is a house with a view!
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Maybe a monastery in the distance, but seen with the zoom lens.
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Looking down at grass and sheep.
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Oak and sheep.
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We dallied quite a while. These towns are not even near our final destination!
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A harvested cork oak, with sheep in the distance.
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The sheep have a dog that is not pleased to see us.
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More sheep and oak.
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There are many magpies about.
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Near Mora, we are returning briefly to the N2, the famous highway that was a feature of our ride here last year.
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The final stretch of the day's ride was along the N251. This mostly had a wide shoulder, which was good because was it ever infested by large trucks!  Our spot in Couço at "Lcc Rooms" is one of a few ground level units that open to a patio, all part of someone's house. Ground level and patio are just what is most convenient for the bikes, so we are happy. We also have lots of food on board, so we are not bothered by the lack of restaurants, or included breakfast, in this little town.

Today's ride: 74 km (46 miles)
Total: 1,664 km (1,033 miles)

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