Thursday, July 23, 2009

Waiting for a waiter

July 20: Check out of our hotel in Lagos. No hot water this morning. Drive inland to Silves. In Portugal you are entered in the Tailgating World Championships and you are driving the lead car. No amount of avoidance tactics will save you and often you are pulling a considerable train that would pass muster in NASCAR.
Coffee at the Cafe de Campanha, Silves, 85 cents each. We peruse the real estate prices in a window below the ramparts of the castle, as an eager British lady gives us the soft sell. We proceed to the Museu de Cortica [cork museum] in an old factory called the Fabrica do Ingles, which tells the story of bottle corks but also gaskets, shoes etc. Much of the machinery is British from the days when they made standing engines and machine tools. The courtyard of the factory has hundreds of cafe tables but not a living soul is there, although we finally encounter an old fellow who collects the two euro per head entry fee. He is unlikely to abscond with the takings.
We drive via Messines, Alte, Salir, Loulé, Faro and Olhão to Tavira on the coast. We stop to photograph an old Auto Union and a Saab. We drop off our clothes at the Lavandaria in Tavira, 13.60 euros full service, but still well ahead of hotel laundry prices. We park the rental car in the free car park and walk to the Hotel Mares with riverside views, a touch oversold at 65 euros per night. We start to explore this resort town, walking across the bridge to the less prosperous side of the river where some old guys are devoting themselves to the serious business of drinking beer and putting the world to rights. We retreat across the bridge to the Bar Veneza for iced rooibos and cerveza. Our attention is soon attracted by the antics of a local drug dealer whose attempts to remain inconspicuous would not fool Inspector Clouseau. Our first encounter with poor restaurant service in Tavira follows.
21 July: Al fresco breakfast at the hotel; postcards, batteries for cameras etc. Photographing microcars in the town centre. We take the 10 o'clock ferry to Tavira Island from a dock near our hotel. The 15 minute trip down river costs 1.90 euros return. The island is great for a day at the beach, but there are no lengthy walks and at the restaurant area you are a captive audience. We hop the ferry back to town where we opt for lunch outside the covered market by the river. A pleasant lunch is once again accompanied by comical service. These people must be trained by New Zealanders. We pick up our laundry where the owner, a young woman from East Germany, insists on telling us her life story. We are only spared the details of her conjugal life but I'm sure we would have got there if we had not beaten a retreat. Back at the hotel we ask for a password for their WiFi network. A young man at the desk outperformed Manuel with the response: "Many people ask us, but no one in the hotel knows it." At tourist information a girl apologizes that their WiFi is not working; then a free half hour on a computer provided goes to waste as the machine freezes up. We fold at this point. Dinner back at the hotel is a riot of confusion and we cancel dessert and flee upstairs, leaving bewildered fellow diners to their fate.
22 July: We are up early and hit the road to Mértola in the Alentejo where we acquire a map for a visit to the museum at Mina do São Domingos. After driving round in circles we locate the Casa do Mineiro where we were welcomed by a lady, who summons Bito from Montreal to help translate, and then Rui arrives to open the mining museum, in an old cinema, especially for us and gives us an authoritative tour. Many Cornish miners were here; some are buried in a nearby cemetery. We part promising to share information about the shipping of copper from the mine. We drive through the old mine site and take the unmade road to Pomarao, on the Guadiana River. An 18km narrow-gauge railway once connected the mine to the port. Here the Willmett ship Pomaron would sail for the UK with cargo from about 1865. [A buzz that justifies the hassle of renting a car.] We cross the new bridge (April 2009) back into Spain and take the N roads back to Seville. We waste time searching for a hotel, found on the internet, in the crap towns north of Seville. Our luck changes as we blunder into the Jardin de la Reina at Torre de la Reina, 48 euros including breakfast and free WiFi in the room. We take the buffet dinner - 13 euros with a bottle of wine, 11 euros without alcohol. The hotel was most satisfactory given that we did not wish to go into Seville after a long day in the saddle.
23 July: Drive through Seville to the station where we drop off the rental car, somewhat lost in the city and baffled by the return procedure; we are relieved to find that we are not liable for charges on our already battered Fiat Punto. After coffee we take the 12:30 renfe train to Cordoba from Seville Santa Justa, 15.15 euros each for assigned seats in tourist class. The journey took just 40 minutes and we take a taxi to the Hotel Conquistador right next to Mezquita Catedral. We stroll in the old Jewish quarter and take lunch at Bodega-Taberna Rafaé - tuna salad, calamari and tinto, 19 euros incl tip. You don't need to be an internationalist to know you are staying in the heart of a "World Heritage Site". What is more the hotel has a comfy sofa in the elegant foyer; free WiFi and people watching. A tapas bar calls - this is the life.

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