Saturday, May 11, 2013

Portugal: Alcobaca, Tomar, Nazare, Obidos

Today it was a tour of the Monastery of Alcobaça (pronounced Alco-basa). The outside was architecturally similar in Gothic style to many we have seen on previous days so I decided to skip the guided tour and find a lovely courtyard on the inside and sit and enjoy the quietness and the birds chirping.

When the rest of the group arrived where I was sitting, they asked if I got lost. I said that I was not lost; I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. Several said that they wished they had done the same. I think most of the group is tired from rushing from place to place without sufficient time to enjoy any one place. One of the group members started the tour with a bad cold and it's now 11 days and more than half the people are sick. I bought some Vitamin C when I was in Spain and I've been taking 2000 mgs each day but I am beginning to feel like I am getting the cold too. I don't want to be sick but with so many of us in a confined space of the bus for so many hours of the day, it was bound to happen.
We drove off to Tomar and again, I skipped the guided tour and wandered around a market. Guess what I saw? Besides the vendors selling cakes, breads, fruits and veggies, there were some vendors selling live chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs. Very reminiscent of Kitty or Bourda Market in Georgetown back in the day. Maybe they still do that! 
The town I liked best was Nazare (pronounced Naz-a-ray) where we stopped for lunch. It is a fishing town right on the ocean and it was quite quaint and pretty. As soon as I came out of the bus I smelled grilled sardines so Rosa, Augusta and I hunted around by basically following our noses to a side street cafe where we had fresh grilled sardines for lunch. I know some people don't like sardines but I happen to love them and fresh is best. The first time I had fresh ones was at Rosa's place many years ago and the next time was about 3 years ago when I went to Santorini. Those were the very best I have ever eaten and I hoped that this cafe would replicate.
We got a plate of 9 medium sized sardines about 8 inches long and really good Portuguese bread with a nice fish pate and of course potatoes and veggies. It was quite good although Augusta was not happy with hers so she complained about them. The owners apologised profusely and before we knew it, they brought us another 4. Augusta left to go shopping and Rosa kept hurrying me to leave but  I just kept right on eating mine and told her that if she wanted to leave, she could but I was going to enjoy every morsel of my lunch. And that I did. Satiated, I went off to walk along the boardwalk and take some pictures before the bus arrived for us. We headed up to the top of the town to the Sitio viewpoint and to see the fishermens' wives who wear a multi-layered (I think 7) petticoat.  

The other charmingly adorable little town was Obidos. The story goes that this town is  known as the "Wedding Present Town." King Dinis gave to Queen Isabel on their wedding day in 1282 so it is almost 1000 years old!

The streets are narrow and certainly not good for anyone who has difficulty walking. Not a wheelchair friendly town but I suppose when it was built, access was not a priority. Expect for about 3 streets that can support vehicular traffic, this enchanting village has a medieval feel to it. All the streets are cobblestone and the walls that divide the houses are at least 6 feet high and made of stone with overhanging flowering vines and shrubs. Truly romantic. Some of the streets are so narrow, that three people walking side by side touching shoulders is about as wide as they are.

At the end of the village is a splendid 12th century castle. One of the people in our group suggested that I skip that part because there was nothing to see but I can't imagine how she didn't think the stone wall (must have been about 50 feet high) encircling the village was amazing to see. And the best part? There were steps going up and down at particular points so that if you wanted to walk the entire wall, you could. I walked a part of it but there was not enough time to walk the whole thing and still have time to explore so I compromised and did a bit of both.

While walking back to the bus, I wanted to stop and sample the liqueur they are famous for "Ginja." What' s special about this is that you can drink the liqueur and eat the container. The tiny cups are casted out of chocolate and the liqueur is served in the chocolate cup like a shooter. You can sip from your cup but if you have hot hands, your container may melt before you're done drinking. So you have to be quick. I didn't try it because with anything alcoholic or that might cause drowsiness (cough syrup, motion sickness pills, antihistamines), I will be fast asleep before I can get the last drop in my mouth.

Dinner was another disappointment with overcooked food but I don't care. My sardines in Nazare and my walk through Obidos was satisfying.  Good day for me. Not so sure about the rest of the group.


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