I’d been in Lisbon for a few days couchsurfing with Rita and her cat Mia. The thin sleeping bag on the cold hard floor was harsh, and the extra warmth generated by Mia’s tendency to curl up at my feet during the night was welcome and appreciated.
Rita had gone to the countryside for two days, and left me in charge of Mia and the keys to her flat. With most of Lisbon already explored and some time left before my next destination, I decided to take a bus to Evora, just over an hour away. Even the name sounds too exotic to miss. A few years ago I had read about a chapel there which was built out of human bones, and sparked by curiosity, I took the first bus out towards my gruesome target.
Note #1: When in a capital city such as Lisbon, taking the bus to nearby towns an hour or two away is an excellent way to see the countryside on the road and explore less-touristy places. There are so many breathtaking sights to see along the way.
As the bus made its way into the town centre, the sun weaved its magic over the well-preserved buildings. It was a beautiful day, and as I stepped off the bus, I felt like I had been transported into a different world. Evora had a medieval feel about it, and it was as if the inhabitants were from an alternative era. I even found a little shop selling old cassette tapes!
The town centre is quite small, and I found the Church of St Francis (Igreja de Sao Francisco) quite easily. The Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos) was meant to be next to it, and I was eager to see it. Unfortunately it only opened at 1pm, and as I was early, I took the opportunity to explore the old cobbled streets.
It was an extremely quiet day, with not many people out and about. As an obvious foreigner, I felt slightly conspicuous, but I busied myself taking photos. The buildings and squares were exquisite, and I fell in love with all of them.
Note #2: As a solo female traveller in a new interesting town, it was easy to dispel the feeling of self-consciousness with a camera in hand. Everything just had to be photographed! When I got tired, I sat in a café/restaurant to review the sights I had captured. The experience was great fun.
The time had come to see the Chapel. As I waited patiently for the doors to open, I noticed that there was only one other tourist there. It must not be a top tourist destinations like I’d presumed. I was quite happy with this as it would have been hard to take any photos with swarms of people in the way. My fellow traveller and I walked warily through the gates, and with an eerie green light emanating from within, I felt as if I was walking into certain doom.There was an inscription at the front, which translates to ‘We bones, lying here bare, are awaiting yours’.
Why did I sign up for this again?
Having prepared myself for a grim experience, once I was inside it was not too bad. The Chapel was smaller than I had imagined. In fact it was like being in a large room. Flanked by columns covered in skulls, I marvelled at the carefully arranged bones in the wall, put in their place forever by cement. There was a poem on one side of the Chapel, which I thought profoundly appropriate for my journey.
The experience was over. After an obligatory contribution of €2, I walked out feeling quite sombre and enlightened. There was not much else to do but head back to Lisbon to say goodbye to Rita and Mia.
This article was originally published on Art of Solo Travel.