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Walking the labyrinthine, narrow, hilly cobblestone streets in old town Mértola we encountered several obviously befuddled tourists driving cars desperately trying to find an exit from behind the walls and we were very happy that we learned our lesson in Odemira and parked the car at the first free spot we could find and continued our exploration on foot. It is impressive how locals are able to navigate these streets with motorized vehicles but rather foolhardy for tourists to attempt.
Mértola was an important river port to many different civilizations. Ruins from Rome, the Moors, and Christendom are found throughout the town. Sitting high on a hill overlooking the river is an impressive castle keep surrounded by a very large castle that would have seem impregnable to pre-modern warriors. The Igreja Matriz was built upon a Mosque near the ruins of an Islamic neighborhood that serves as a living archeological exhibit with both tourists and scientific laborers on the site. Remnants of what was once a very beautiful and elaborate mosaic feature various animals from Europe and Africa.
After strolling through the castle we found a wonderful restaurant with outdoor dining above the river. Jo enjoyed grilled prawns and Paul had black pork. We viewed an old Roman structure guarding entry to the river before going back to the car and onto Serpa.
This time we kept driving into old town, inside the castle walls, before finding a parking space right next to egress out into wider, straighter streets. We enjoyed looking at painted pottery at an artisan shop and managed to limit our purchases to two small bowls and an olive serving dish with small side bowl for discarded pits (we will miss the ready availability of delicious olives at nearly every meal). Then onto the castle past numerous churches.
On the way out we looked for what we thought was a brewery but turned out to be just a pub serving the widespread Sagres beers (Portugal is great for wine but is behind on the craft beer scene). We stumbled upon a Chinese Store - it seems that there are several in every town - selling all sorts of things at, usually, low prices, and purchased the additional candles we need for our installation of 40 handmade lanterns. We thought that "Chinese Store" was slang used by the locals to denote stores operated by Asian immigrants but noted that the stores had "Loja Chinesa" painted on their outside logos as self-designation.
We noted through the day's drive how much the landscape seemed so typical of Portugal - as well as California - everything appeared. At least in Alentejo we have observed towns of only white-washed buildings and red-tile roofs without exception. Castle ruins are common, as are many churches - Igreja Matriz and Igreja de Nossa Senhora are typical. The dried grass covered hills are dotted with cork trees which have an appearance much like the scrub oak familiar in California. As is true in California, wild fires are a threat - last year there were many deaths from the fires.