day 18 :
tuesday, 12 june
Arraiolos was our first stop today – a small town north of Évora famous for its handmade wool carpets and rugs. We window-shopped along the main street of white-washed buildings under colorful fabric canopies, eyeing some beautiful rugs. Eventually, reason got the better of us; our luggage was already heavy with chocolates, port, and wine, and we didn't need to complicate things further with a rug.
After coasting into a gas station on scant fumes and filling up our rental car with just enough gas to get us to Lisbon, we got on the highway and followed our GPS's directions to the Avis car rental drop-off location. We went through a long series of twists, sharp turns, roundabouts, and tiny streets, wondering how we could possibly be on the right track, and as our GPS pronounced we had arrived at our destination, there was no Avis garage to be seen. We decided to pull over to figure out what had happened. We were facing downhill on a particularly steep street, and as Eric pulled into an open spot, he realized too late that he was too close to the car parked in front of him and had no chance of getting our car into reverse without hitting the parked car. Dawn looked rather alarmed at hearing this news, so she walked down the hill to find something that might tell us where we were. Eric waited until most of the passersby were gone, rolled forward a couple of inches until the cars were touching, put the gear into reverse, and accelerated as quickly as he could to avoid damaging anything. The result was successful: the car in front of us thankfully had its emergency brake on, so it barely moved from our car's weight, and we ended up with enough distance between us to allow us to get out of the spot. Three weeks of driving, and we nearly wreck our bumper and a streetful of cars in the last five minutes!
By this time, Dawn had figured out what happened; when we had turned the GPS back on after stopping for gas earlier, the GPS moved on to the next destination in our itinerary, which was our bed-and-breakfast about a half mile south of Avis. We were originally going to return the car first and take a taxi, since the B&B owner had strongly recommended that we don't attempt driving through the narrow streets in this part of town (obvious to us, now). But now that we were here, we unloaded the car and hauled our bags a block up the hill to Zuzabed. We met the owner, Luis, at the outdoor café, and he graciously helped carry our bags up the final three flights of narrow steps to our room. As he had explained when we booked the room, we had the smallest room in the bed and breakfast. He wasn't kidding; this seemed like the smallest room we've stayed in anywhere. (Or, perhaps it felt extra-small after the spacious room we had enjoyed these last few nights at the Convento.) Regardless, it made good use of space, had a private bath, and even sported a deck with a view of Lisbon, so we were happy.
Next we went to the real Avis drop-off location, which was closed for the lunch hour. No matter, we left the car with a garage attendant and said we'd be back in an hour, and wandered down the street to find lunch. We happened to be right by the five-star Hotel Tivoli, so Dawn had the good idea of walking in and asking their concierge for a lunch recommendation. The staff was very friendly, giving us a map and directions to a nice restaurant just a couple of blocks away. After a quick meal of bacalhau (salt cod) and cabrito (roasted kid goat), we finally straightened out our car rental drop-off and had a leisurely walk back along Avenida da Liberdade to our B&B.
It wasn't until we had talked with Luis at checkin that we learned that tonight was Lisbon's biggest festival day. It was going to be an all night party in honor of Santo Antonio, who was born in Lisbon and is sometimes called the matchmaker saint. In that spirit, every year the mayor of Lisbon offers free weddings at Saint Anthony's Church to poor couples, who get married in a single mass ceremony. We didn't see the ceremony, but we saw another tradition: street vendors were selling manjericos, flower-pots with a sweet basil plant and a love poem tucked into the top, which you are supposed to give to your loved one. After dinner at Solar dos Presuntos, where Dawn had what looked like an entire cauldron of seafood stew (they definitely like their big portions here!), we joined the crowds along Avenida da Liberedade to watch the Marchas Populares, a parade with floats and costumed people from every neighborhood in the city. The parade started at 9:30, and by 11 we decided to get some sleep for our full day of sightseeing tomorrow, figuring that the parade would be over soon anyway. We later learned that it went on past 2AM! We eventually drifted off to sleep to the sounds of street musicians playing pimba music and revelers clinking glasses.