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 façade.

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!

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A bit more of Historical Portugal (Part 1)

A Bit More of Historical Portugal (Part 1)

Well, it's been quite a few days since we've managed to post anything on the blog (due to lack of internet) - and even now the signal here is quite poor, so I think I'll have to put our on going adventure on in stages - so this is Part 1!

Tuesday 23rd February 2016

Today we decided to walk into the city of Evora - a distance of about one and a half miles from the campsite, and as it has been awarded World Heritage Status by UNESCO  in 1986 we thought there would be plenty there to keep us occupied.  Maybe we're philistines, but after wandering the streets for a couple of hours we both agreed we'd rather have the wide open country side or wild Atlantic coast any day.

That's not to say we didn't enjoy what we did do.  We visited the beautiful Roman-Gothic Cathedral - Se Cathedral Evora and marvelled at the arches and alters within it's walls, but the guide books had informed us that the best bits are supposed to be the roof which is reached via the bell tower and a narrow spiral 135 step staircase, and the cloisters - both of which were closed.


bone chapel evoraWe were also interested to see the bone chapel - The Capela dos |Ossos which is housed within the Igreja de Sao Francisco Church Complex.  It is described as a fascinating chapel with a rather macabre secret - it is the final resting place of hundreds of bodies that were exhumed from the city's graveyards in the 16th century - apparently, at that time the graveyards of Evora became overcrowded so bones were exhumed to make way for new bodies to be buried.  Sadly, this attraction was closed as well, so finally we headed for the Diana Roman Temple with it's 12 crumbling columns!  This was open and free, but really, although it's noted as being the most famous tourist attraction in Evora there was nothing to do other than click a quick pic!

Anyway, by now we were feeling quite hungry so we decided to make tracks back to the campsite for a late lunch, however, on the way we got a bit distracted by a huge hypermarket.  We nipped in - and then nipped back out with a carrier bag containing 4 bottles of the good stuff - we've only sampled one so far and it was excellent, and all for the knock down price of about 3 euros!

Wednesday 24th February 2016

Not really much to report today.  We left our campsite at Evora and decided we would top up our supplies before heading out into the back of beyond again!  Once restocked we turned our wheels towards Marvao, and I thought ‘Oh, just another hill top Fortress’ ‘maybe not overly exciting’  -  How wrong can you be - but that will be tomorrow’s story!


Our journey was to be about 80 miles, and although we’d set off in fine weather it soon deteriorated, and it wasn’t long before the wind and rain were slamming into the T4rdis with great abandon.  At one point we stopped in a lay-by for lunch but we could hardly hear ourselves think due to the noise of the rain rattling on our exterior, so we didn’t pause for long. Once we were fed and watered we were soon rolling up hill and down dale towards our destination, but the last part was very definitely up up and up until we landed on a terrace that provides the Aire for the town of Marvao.  To the side there was a Convent, and behind us were the fortifications of the castle, but the forward view was the best!  This was a wonderful panorama that spread out below us and which stretched for many miles - and we were quite lucky, because although it stayed very windy the cloud cleared, thus improving our viewing pleasure.  

However, we also had a spot of bad luck!  The Aire was on very uneven ground, so as the T4rdis landed it was on a dreadful ‘wonk’.  Never mind, we thought we'd easily be able to cure that  with our ramps - under the front wheels they went, and then John drove up onto them, and then…….SNAP…… one of them broke clean in half!  Therefore, on a ‘wonk’ we stayed! We almost needed a block and tackle to get into the kitchen end, and when we had dinner our meal was in grave danger of sliding off the table into the cab!  Oh well, at least we were able to sleep head up!

Thursday 25th February 2016

This morning we set off to explore the town, the fortifications and the castle - and what a wonderful surprise that was.  While we've been on our travels we've explored quite a few castles but this one was easily the best yet in relation to it’s preservation, it’s history and the views from the castle walls and buildings.  

We entered the town and started our tour by walking along the very narrow cobbled streets that were lined on one side by ancient cottages and on the other by the castle wall, but after we’d needed to breath in a couple of times to allow cars to pass we felt we should walk on the ‘pavement’  This required us to climb up onto a ledge that was about 4 feet above the road and about 2 feet wide - it  was protected on one side by the ramparts, but on the other - nothing. 

And this only got worse - or better - depending on your degree of vertigo!   The walkway soon led us to a very steep, rugged old stone stairway that would allow us to gain access to the castle entrance - you had a choice whether to take your life in your hands and proceed , or you could chicken out and take the easier road way - we only dithered for a few seconds before starting our climb.  
The views as we ascended were breathtaking - or was that the exercise - but we did find ourselves clinging quite closely to the wall as we went.  

After just over a 100 steps (some of which were missing) we came to the castle entrance and I got my purse out to pay the entrance fee - ‘oh no’ said a pleasant young man, ‘it’s free this month’.  That would never happen in England!  He then proceeded to supply us with an information leaflet, and to advise us on what we should see, before wishing us a very enjoyable visit.

The Cistern
We began our visit by descending down a dark  dark stairway that allowed us to enter  ‘The Cistern’ - apparently it's the largest within any Portuguese castle, and it's a structure that was built to gather rain water - and this one could hold enough for 6 months.  Once inside we found ourselves standing just above the water level in a gloomy tunnel that echoed every time we spoke.  It 's suggested that you sing your favourite song while down there but I was a bit worried - if I did maybe the rains would come back and we might drown!  Well, that didn’t happen, but I do think we spent too long down there because all of a sudden we were plunged into darkness when the lights timed out!

The Castle Plan
From there we proceeded to walk around the ramparts gazing at the fantastic views and vistas as they unfolded before us - apparently a famous author once wrote ‘From Marvao one can see the World’ - it certainly felt like it!

Following our exploration of the rest of the castle we eventually came to The Keep, and it was here that we were able to acquaint ourselves with the Castle’s 1000 year history - from it’s early origins at the end of the ninth century, and through it’s many battles and wars.  

It was also from here that we were able to access, via a spiral stone staircase, the highest point in the castle, from where you have 360 degree views as far as the eye could see.  Additionally, we were also treated to a fly by from a squadron of 9 or 10 Bonelli Eagles who were using  the thermals to gain height and then gliding back in front of the ramparts - they were huge and very beautiful!

Following our visit we walked back through the town where we found many more historic buildings along with a few eateries, but very little in the way of shops - we really didn’t seem to be able to spend our money today!  We walked back past the Convent and Church of Nossa Senhora da Estrela, past the Aire, and out onto the rocky outcrop which opened up a previously unseen vista of many boulders haphazardly strewn by nature on the immediate steep slopes below us.  We could also hear ringing - no not the church bells - this was coming from bells that were tied around the grazing goats necks!

Back at the T4rdis we had lunch and then debated what to do next - because of our extreme ‘wonk’ we’d already decided we would be moving on.  So, a short drive took us to Barragem de Povoa - another free Aire with views over a resevoir and from where there are several way marked long and short walks - so that will be the plan for tomorrow, the former or the later depending on the weather.

Friday 26th February 2016

Well, our plans for today were well and truly scuppered - by the torrential rain that poured from the skies for most of the day (and a good part of the previous night).  We quickly considered going out but decided there would be no pleasure in getting soaked, and drying all our wet gear would also have been a problem in an already steamy  T4rdis.  So instead, we had a duvet day!  We made thick gooey pancakes for breakfast, we read a bit, and then we had cheese on toast for lunch.  In the afternoon we watched a Star Trek film - Into Darkness, and then we had tea!  In the evening we sat and sipped a very pleasant glass of wine (or three),  and reminisced about our travels since we sold up and started our journey nearly 6 months ago. And then, because we were worn out, we pottered off to bed.

Saturday 27th 2016

This morning dawned bright and sunny, but quite cold - however, after our lazy day yesterday we were quite determined we would be going for a long walk!  So as usual, a picnic was packed and our flask was filled, and off we went planning to tackle most of the 8km path (16 there and back) that mostly hugs the side of the resevoir - but once again, our plan didn’t quite come to full fruition!

All started well as we left the Aire - we knew that parts of the trail would be on quiet roads and other sections on  tracks that closely followed the waters edge, so we were quite hopeful that we would be able to do a bit of bird spotting along the way.  And we hadn't been walking long when we heard the give away ‘clacking’ noise that strokes make with there beaks,  then low and behold, there were numerous storks in graceful flight, along with nests perched up on chimneys and high  in a huge eucalyptus tree.

At this stage we were approaching the dam wall, but just before we got there we came across this sculpture that represents the areas relationship to electricity.   From the notice board we learnt that the dam was mainly built to produce electrical power to supply several villages and small industries in the area and that this particular area was one of the first in Portugal to receive power in this way.

We crossed the dam and then dropped down onto a track beside the water, and it was here that we met a bit of a problem - following all the heavy rain the track was submerged!  However, we were not to be deterred and we thought we could circumnavigate the flooded bit by scrambling over some rocks and picking our way  through some  dense thicket, and then - we were a bit lost!  “I know” said John “let’s head back to the road”, so over some more rocks we went - and then we found ourselves in a rough field surrounded by a barbed wire fence but with the road just on the other side of it.  Oh well, there was nothing else for it - we couldn't climb over it cos it was to high, we couldn't climb through it cos the rows of wire were to close together, so we crawled under it - commando style!  I did ask John if he would repeat the performance so I could take a picture - but he declined!

Anyway, after that we went forwards and onwards and found several more flooded sections of track, but each time we managed to get around it by scrambling over rocky walls or beating our way through the undergrowth.  But sadly, in the end the flooding got the better of us, and we decided to be sensible and turn back.

We retraced out tracks and paused for lunch on the lake edge where we spotted herons in the distance as we munched our sandwiches, but by now, even though the sun was shining, it was cold in the wind.  So back to the lovely warm T4rdis we went for a welcome cuppa and to put our feet up.  

Click here to see our Portuguese camping spots