Sunday, 6 March 2016

A Bit More of Historical Portugal - Part 2

A Bit More of Historical Portugal - Part 2

Sunday 28th February 2016

This morning we left our lovely Aire near Barragem de Povoa and headed for another free stopover at a place called Abrantes.  The drive proved to be quite delightful - mostly along country lanes that were lined with lush greenery which included loads of vines and trailing eucalyptus trees, and then as we neared the town we could see another hill top fortress.  The book described the Aire as being adjacent to a river with a wide sandy beach and with cafes and park areas along it’s promenades.  This turned out to be a fair description,  but there were only 2 spaces down near the water so we had to park a little higher up - still in a designated Aire space but at the side of a dead end road.  Also the place had a bit of a run down atmosphere, with graffiti gracing many of it’s flat surfaces, and a fair on the opposite shore that blared music until quite late.  However, while on our travels we've learnt not to judge a book by it’s cover, so after a quick walk along the shore which only extended for about 200 yards, we set off up hill to explore the fortress at the top.

The climb up took us through some very run down cobbled lanes where children and animals ran about outside small dilapidated dwellings - but they were quite friendly and smiled as we passed, and then eventually we came to the road that would lead to the Fortress.  Here we saw a sign that indicated it would be open so we continued our climb hoping it would all be worth it - but it turned out to be very firmly closed - and judging by the neglect of some of the paths, we thought it probably had been for quite a long time!  “Not to worry”  we said, “we will enjoy the views as we walk around the base”, and mostly we did - the gardens were very pretty and we could see many miles into the distance.  However, it was nowhere near as impressive as Marvao, and as we walked back down through the old cobbled ‘closed’ town we didn’t find anything else to peek our interest either, - maybe this cover had given us the right idea in the first place!

Monday 29th February 2016.
This morning we were up quite early (it had been another cold night), and quickly packed up ready to continue our journey.  But before we’d gone far we came across members of the local constabulary directing traffic around a roundabout.  Now, we wanted to go to get fuel from the Intermarche supermarket, (cos it was only 1 euro a litre),  but they didn’t seem to want us to go that way, but after a little chat (him in Portuguese and me in English), the nice Policeman waved us through.  So, said mission was completed, and then back we came past the same policeman who stopped us again - we think to ask were we were going!  We told him Fatima via the N3, to which he smiled and waved us on our way.  However, at this point Mrs Snoopy upset our plan and directed us onto the dreaded Electronic Toll Motorway (dreaded cos we hadn't registered to use them). This caused us both a bit of distress, but luckily we think we managed to get off before we triggered any cameras, but unfortunately, it meant we had to backtrack, and ended up passing the same, by now laughing policeman, for a third time before we could commence our journey properly.
Today’s destination was to be an Aire at Fatima which is situated 200 metres from a religious complex that was built at the site of an Apparition in 1917.  Well, what a place!  Even before we saw the main event we were impressed - the car parks surrounding the complex are massive - and little wonder - apparently  visitors come in their thousands from all parts of the world, mostly on the 13th of every month, but even more so on the 13th May and 13th October.  We eventually arrived at the Aire, and to be honest, the area and facilities are better than we've found on many camp sites where we've had to pay - so we'll be very happy campers tonight!

That's a lot of people!
We had lunch and then set off to explore, and even though we haven’t got any firm religious beliefs, our awe was well and truly inspired!  Sadly, there is a fair bit of renovation work going on in front of the main Church - The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary - but it didn’t really spoil the magnificence of the buildings fa├žade.

He's not making a rude sign - Honest!
As well as the Church itself there are huge columns and arches that support Saints that look down over the esplanade that stretches out in front of the Church - an area that is completely filled with worshippers on special religious dates.  We learnt that Fatima is a place of pilgrimage for many Catholics in commemoration of the apparition of the Virgin to three young shepherds in Cova da Iria.   

The actual place of the Apparition is just to the right of the church, The Chapel of the Apparition is said to be the very heart of the Sanctuary, and one that many pilgrims approach on their knees, while we were there many people were praying.   Next, and quite close by, we noticed another sheltered area that appeared to be on fire - smoke was pouring out of it’s frontage, however on closer inspection it was the many candles that had been lit!

We also visited the newer Basilica at the opposite end of the complex - another magnificent building that was surrounded by statues of several Popes, and off course, we explored the Church itself, were again many people were praying.   It was here that we found the tombs of the Sainted Children who first saw the Apparition - the ground beneath them was scattered with flowers - the one below was that of Jacinta - the others being Francisco and Lucia.

Once we left the church complex we entered a square of stalls - 45 of them all selling almost identical religious paraphernalia, and all with hopeful looking owners behind them but no customers in front.  And this theme didn’t end there, from here we pottered down one of the town’s main streets where nearly all the shops sold all manner of church related items - lovely tiny rosaries, huge statues and religious garb in many striking colours.    

Did I say striking!  That was something the Bells did not many metres away form the T4rdis - every 15 minuets - but as it was very tuneful we quite liked them, and we just kept our fingers crossed that they would stop at 10 and only start again at 7am as the info at the Aire indicated.

Tuesday 1st March 2016

It was correct! the ringing started bang on seven, and like yesterday, it continued every 15 mins thereafter!

This morning we left Fatima and headed a short distance down the road to Batalha where we knew there was a huge Gothic monastery, but nothing had prepared us for our first view of it. This occurred as we rounded a corner  heading towards our next free parking spot, in unison, we both let out a little swear word as we gorped in awe at the intricate turrets, gargoyles, spires and filigree like decorative stone work of this UNESCO listed building.

We soon parked up and headed straight for the Tourist Info Office were a very helpful lady told us about what we should try and see during our stay, and she also provided us with guides and maps to help us on our way.  We quickly decided that we would save the monastery for the afternoon, and would try and complete her other suggestions during what was left of the morning.  Our first stop was Batalha’s Municipal Community Museum - a place she had highly recommended and that had won The European Museum of the year award in 2013, but sadly it was closed on Tuesdays.  

So from there we visited a couple churches and then undertook a ten minute walk to The Ponte da Boutaca - a Roman style bridge that was constructed in 1862 and that has 2 pavilions at each end - it was ok but it didn’t really have much wow factor - there was only a trickle of water running under it!

King Joao on his ose

Then it was back to the T4rdis for lunch and quickly out again for the main event - our visit to the Batalha Monastery.  The building dates back to 1385 and was commissioned by King Joao following a promise he made to Nossa Senhora - that he would build a monastery if the Portuguese army won the ‘Batalha de Aljubarrota’ - a very famous battle  against the Castilian army in which the English were involved on the Portuguese side- and they won.   

The building work commenced in 1386 and went on until  the 16th century with numerous architects having a hand in it’s structures.  However, parts of it were never finished, and today this area is labelled The Unfinished Chapels.  This area is entered via a magnificently ornate portal, and we both found it almost incomprehensible to fathom how such fantastic stone masonry could have been achieved without the ability to cast!  This section is separate to the main building and is octagonal in shape, and the bit that they failed to finish seemed to be the roof - all the ornate masonry is open to the elements - and home to many pigeons!

Our visit started in the Church where we viewed the Central Nave with its towering columns and arched roofs, and then continued into the Founder’s Chapel where we found some beautiful stained glass windows, a lovely ornate ceiling and the tombs of King Joao and his Queen Filipa de Lencastre.


From there we continued  into the first Cloister - The Cloister of King Joao - where we passed ‘The Wash room’ a fountain where the monks washed their hands before entering the refectory - Goldfish claim it as their home now

Then it was onto The Chapter House - a technical marvel because it was designed with a huge single vault roof with no central support.  The Chapter House is also a place where the Portuguese army provide an armed guard (since 1921) to watch over the final resting place of an unknown soldier.  

Obviously, our tour included much more than it’s feasible to write about here, but I would have no hesitation in recommending a visit to this fantastic monument  if you are ever in the area - cost was 6 euros each to enter and well worth every penny cent, and they also provide an audio guide in English if you ask for it.

Wednesday 2nd March 2016

This morning we left Batalha and backtracked a little because we’d decided we wanted to visit The Grutas da Moeda (Coin Caves).  They are located just outside Fatima, so our plan was to visit the caves and then to go back to the Fatima Aire for the night. The one with the bells………

It was dark down there!
The caves are part of a limestone massif - The Macico Calcario Estremenho - and they were discovered in 1971 when two hunters spotted a fox entering a small hole under some bushes. They followed it in and found a network of tunnels and galleries full of beautiful limestone formations, and today these areas have imaginative  names such as The Lake of Happiness, The Nativity Scene, The Waterfall and The Flawed Chapel.   

Apparently it will take another 10,000 years for
this to join with the Stalactite that is coming
down to meet it

We were very lucky for our visit, because as we were the only  guests present, so had a guide to ourselves and he turned out to be a young Portuguese man who spoke excellent English and who was very knowledgeable about his subject.

As we wandered through the labyrinth he explained how the Calcite and water worked together to form the structures/sculptures we were seeing, and he also pointed out various areas where the imagination could be used to see an alligator, African faces, an elephant and a cauliflower!

Finally, when our trip through the caves was complete, he provided more information about other areas that he advised us to visit - so tomorrow we are off to Nazare - a spot on the coast that is famous for massive waves and surfing!

Thursday 3rd March 2016

After our trip around the caves we coasted back to Fatima for the night, and again, we were woken quite early by the tuneful bells.  Then, after breakfast John set Mrs Snoopy and off we went to the seaside at Nazare.  Now, Nazare lies at the bottom of a very big outcrop of rock that has a fortification at the top, and where the waves are massive on one side, but quieter on the town side.  

Our guide from yesterday had told us that there was ‘an elevator’ to take us up to the fortress - this turned out to be a funicular railway that was closed.  So, the only other way up was Shank’s Pony, up about 200 steep steps, however the views of the crashing waves were spectacular so we were quite distracted from the work of climbing.

When we got to the top we debated if we should bother paying to go into the Fortress - Forte de S.Miguel Arconjo - but as it was only 1 euro we did and we were very glad we had!  Inside there was a lot more cultural history, but there was also an explanation as to why Nazare experiences such huge waves - apparently there is a submarine canyon that lies just off shore - a geological structure that results in the massive waves that occur in this area. (there was lots of scientific info as well but it was a bit to technical for me!)

There was also an audio visual display showing some of the ginormus surf and additionally we found a plaque to show that Nazare holds the world record, as stated in The Guiness Book of Records, for the biggest wave ever surfed - 78 feet on November 1st 2011!
Today, while we were there, the tide was going out so the surf was nowhere near as big as in the picture above (a picture of a picture), but we would guess the waves were about 10 -15 feet, and as they frothed and sprayed as they broke way out before they hit the beach we were treated to a display that held our attention for quite a long time.

Then it was back to the T4rdis and make our minds up time as to where we were going to stay tonight.  In the end, and because it was still only early afternoon, we decided to head back to the Aire at Batalha because it provided a better start point for our onward journey tomorrow.

Friday 4th March 2016

Not a very interesting day!  We woke up to drizzle, and then the sun peeked out, and for a while it looked promising - but it didn’t last.  Today our plan was to head further North up to Coimbra, and we thought we would be able to do this by following the main IC2 route.  However, Mrs Snoopy had other ideas!  She could easily have directed us straight onto our preferred road, but NO.  She seemed to think we needed  to go via the scenic route which required us, at least to start with,  to trek over very narrow bumpy roads, where in places it was a very tight fit for us and any on coming vehicle!

Anyway, eventually we made it to Coimbra, a university city where our aim was to park on an Aire right beside The Mondego river - one of the three great rivers that dissect Portugal.  

When we arrived the rain was pouring and we did debate if it was worth going out and getting wet through, but by the time we'd scoffed our lunch it had settled down to just fine drizzle so we braved it!  We wandered across  a bridge that would lead us into the City Centre, and then around the narrow little streets that led us past the Old Cathedral - Se Velha. Then it was back to the T4rdis for a bit of planning re our departure form Portugal - we made it just in time before the heavens opened again!

Click here to see our Portuguese Camping spots

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