When traveling to a country like Portugal which is full of history and tradition you have to take in a festival. There is lots to choose from but it is a matter of timing and a bit of research. Festa dos Tabuleiros would be ours. Young girls in traditional white costumes carry towering platters of bread and flowers on their heads.
They walk for up to 7kms balancing the platters. We were told that the tower is the made the same height as the girl carrying it and weights up to 50lbs. But that happens on Sunday and it is Thursday
Our B&B is 70kms from Tomar where the weeklong festival takes place. Our plans were to arrive early so that we could get a good parking spot. Portuguese people have this amazing talent that enables them to park a car anywhere which can result in you spending a lots more time at the festival then you plan, because you can’t get your car out. With the first part of the plan executed we were left with 6 hours in the searing heat.
The city of Tomar, has this festival every 4 years. It started this year on the 4 of July, we are here on the 9th. This is the day all the streets will be decorated in different themes. The plans are kept secret until unveiling day which is today.
There is sheets of plastic covering the entrance to each street and the people that live on the street are busy decorating. We peek behind the plastic to get an idea of what is going on and it is pretty cool.
We manage several stops for gelati, coffee, salads, and more gelati. At our final gelati spot the young man speaks excellent English and is impressed with Philippa’s fully accented Portuguese. She now has ordering gelati down to a fine art. He comes out to join us and suggests we have dinner at the medieval restaurant opposite the church, Restaurante Taverna Antiqua. Only in Portugal does someone recommend another restaurant other then the one they work at to customers. We headed over to the restaurant had a great meal and could hear the music start as the streets were being opened.
The girls are ready to see what all the fuss is about and are not disappointed. Some of the streets are more the 1/2km long and they are brimming with paper flowers, garlands, bees, cornettos, candies you name it. The people are being congratulated on their accomplishments and how amazing each street looks. There are lots of children wearing the traditional outfits, girls in the white dress and sash and the boys are in the butler outfit.
The children of the street are selling mini flower arrangement to help pay for the cost of the decorations. Others are selling t-shirts with the streets theme.
There are 1000s of people here now and the streets are a big party. We had a wonderful time and have 40 thousand photos of the whole festival. Then we executed the final stage, getting our car out without a problem
The road has taken us to Beiras, our home is in the countryside near the town of Montemor-O-Velho. Our goal here is to see some amazing literary spots. As a person with Icelandic roots I am naturally drawn to books, it is in our genes and we pass the love affair on to the next generation. So when we arrived at Coimbra University,
Philippa’s reaction to the Joanine Library was heartfelt. Upon entering the library she almost burst into tears; at that point declaring that she must attend Coimbra University so that she could always be near this library. It really is a sight to behold, the 300,000 books lining the shelves, the exotic woods are rich in gilt. The visits are timed to enter the library in order to control the temperature inside. There are some helpful friends in the form of bats that live in the ceiling and lunch on the bugs that may harm the books. (My thoughts were about the droppings from the bats). From the library it is back to the courtyard, it was very hot and the reflection from the white walls is almost blinding. Our tickets also get us in to the Chapel of São Miguel and the sites were the students defend their thesis. Sean did climb the clock tower which it a one way system and not for anyone with large shoulders or claustrophobia. The students of this university wear a uniform that Philippa and Mariah have seen many times as it was JK Rowling’s inspiration for the one the students wear at Hogwarts.
A lot of the buildings outside of the courtyard were replaced in the 40s and don’t really reflect the same sort of architecture as the ones in the courtyard. The Museu Nacional Machado de Castro is close by so after a snack we ventured in. On the first Sunday of the month such sites are free so we explored the Roman area below ground and walked through the museum’s amazing collection of paintings and sculptures.
The trip back to our car was a bit of a worry as we parked next to the public market but really had no clue were that was anymore. Like all the towns and cities in Portugal it is up hill both ways. We had reach the university by a flight of verrry steep stairs (about a 177 of them)
.Google maps said go left then right and we ended up at a funicular. Pushed the button and like magic the car came up. I paid the man and he saved us 2 hours of being lost in the winding streets. Once at the bottom like magic -the public market. Yippee.
Our next literary spot is a bookstore in Porto, the lady of our guest house joins us for the drive. She has the knowledge of where to park. This is very important when trying to put your car somewhere while you explore but don’t want to walk 7km to find it again. Upon exiting the car park you are in old world Porto.
At every turn you want to capture an image; the tiles walls, the wrought iron balconies, the artful plaster scroll work around the windows and doors. Thank goodness we don’t have to worry about film! We did find the bookstore (Livraria Lello & Irmão) almost immediately. There is a gathering of people outside of the shop so we know we have the right one. Once inside it is beautiful, the winding staircase takes you to the second level were you find a café. Sean scores us a table, once again like magic. We enjoy a glass of white port with cake and coffee whilst the girls look at books. The idea of buying books was on our mind but practicality would dictate different. The best thing to do is drink in all in, touch, feel and photograph. I loved the tracks that the wooden book bins run on. The Harry Potter feeling is alive and well at this spot. Once again poor Philippa is at a loss. How can she take some of this home? You can’t. You really just have to enjoy the magic. We only have the afternoon here and it will not be enough time to do everything. We were given advice to take the hop on hop off bus which we did. It was not the best advice, the bus has an open top ( it was 40c) stuck in traffic most of the time, the English guide in the earphones is useless and it is long( 2 hours) . We got off on the other side of the Douro River. This is the site of all things Port.
You can sample, learn and buy Port. Then back on the bus to find Alena. We meet up with her at Sao Bento Rail Station. It is a beautifully tiled station, depicting various modes of transport, rural festivities and history. Porto was a amazing city to visit but a day here only touches the surface. I feel a need to return here in October when the sun is kinder and we can take a few days and just wander the streets. You need to take your time here there is so much going on your senses get overloaded.
(Note from Hannah who is the link master. )
Here are the UNESCO heritage site links to all the UNESCO heritage sites mentioned in this entry