Tired of touristy places? Want an “authentic”experience, where the locals are friendly, gracious and actually happy to see you? Yet ANOTHER advantage of serving as a Global Volunteer is the organization finds these places FOR you –places I would probably never would have discovered on my own.
I feel like I’ve been dropped into a magical spot. The lovely city of Beja just oozes charm. Its cobblestone streets haphazardly lead in many different directions, much worse than in Boston. Who would have thought that was even possible? Fortunately, in Beja, you can WALK everywhere–to work assignments, to dinner, for coffee, to the bus station, to its many attractions.
Art is EVERYWHERE. Here are just a few examples. This sculpture is controversial. It reminds me of trees. What do YOU see?]
In 1983, while excavating for a house’s foundation, Roman ruins were uncovered. The property’s owner was persuaded to build his house elsewhere, and voila, by 2004, this architecturally intriguing museum was created. Okay, so in Italy you can visit all kinds of ruins, but in Beja you can walk OVER them, atop a glass floor. For those whose eyes glaze over at the thought of another museum visit, this is the right place for you. Small, but oh so interesting.
I couldn’t figure out how to photograph the dwelling’s private bath. Here’s my poor attempt. Guess you’ll just have to go there.
Although the residents were aware of Pax Julia’s importance to the Romans, (Beja’s name back then), they didn’t know that the area had been inhabited much, much earlier. The museum contains artifacts dating back to 3000 BC. The Nucleo Muselogogico ( The name is almost as big as the museum) is free, as are the blue booties you wear to protect the glass floor.
Close by is the Regional Museum, which was originally a convent for women. Across the street is the theater, formerly the convent for men. The passageway that once ran between the two buildings (no doubt only used by the servants, to carry supplies back and forth), no longer exists.
The Regional Museum is the only one that charges a fee–just two Euros, and it is well worth it. In addition to all of the precious church items,
there is also a fine exhibit showing the process for restoring paintings. If seeing how St. Bartholomew was flayed is your thing, then you definitely need to find your way to the paintings room.
If instead, you are a literature buff, you can go upstairs to view the window through which Sr. Mariana gazed longingly, awaiting the return of her knight in shining armor. Yes, the author of the famous “Letters of a Portuguese Nun” lived in this very convent.
I mistakenly thought that being sent off to a convent was not a fate I would have desired. But that was BEFORE our guide pointed out its many advantages: unlike married women, who became their husband’s servants, rich girls got to bring THEIR servants WITH them to the convent. Freed from toil, they were educated, spending their days praying, reading and being waited on. I never thought of it quite like that. An additional bonus? You didn’t die in childbirth. Of course, there was always a chance you could be bricked into a wall, if you made a real good friend across the passageway, who got to know you in the biblical sense.
On the outskirts of town is the fortress (they refer to it as a castle) with the tallest tower on the Iberian peninsula. It has 198 steps and is 40 meters high (or 131 feet, but it is already on a hill, so it feels even higher).
Can you imagine trying to navigate these steps, wearing your armor while trying to dodge arrows and rocks, or whatever they were using back then?
I’ve been told you can see Spain from the top. But then, they could tell me I could see Russia from there, and I probably would have believed them.
The Hotel Bejense is a great choice if you are looking for the 3C’s: clean, comfortable, cheap. For about $57 a night, you get a small room, with a private bath (complete with hair dryer, and towel warmers), breakfast, great Wi-Fi, a flat screenTV with many English channels, on a pedestrian walkway. Right next door a pastry shop with incredibly delicious offerings. Good thing we walk so much, because we are visiting the pastry shop at least once a day, sometimes more.
If you want to splurge and spend almost $90 per night, (off season rate ) you can always stay at the nearby Pousada de Sao Francisco, another former convent.
Four of us opted to have lunch there and to conduct our own self guided tour. I know what my sisters are thinking, so I will answer the question. YES, we WERE allowed to wander through the convent.
Speaking of food, you won’t go hungry in Beja. You have LOTS of choices, from the rather expensive (non Global Volunteer lunch at the Pousada) to the incredibly affordable and everything in between. My favorite restaurant is Les Infantes, where we were served fantastic “Tuscan Pasta Salad”. Take my word for it, if you are in Beja, you HAVE to try it.
Beja—a small city with a big heart!