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
This entire trip to Portugal started with a small write up in Men’s Journal. It talked about the surfing in a little known place called Peniche Portugal. Sean said we should go there!
So we did.
Peniche is on a peninsula on the Atlantic coast. It is not the sort of place you check into a Marriott hotel and have a big pool. It is more a place that a VW van should be (and is) guys and gals in wet suits and families sitting on the beach. People chat about SuperTubos, pipelines and the world surf championships. It's not pretentious; the ice cream is the same price here as in the other towns and a bottle of water will still set you back 35c.
We are staying in a small hamlet called Consolacao beach, in a wonderful home that is clean, two bedrooms and has super supplied kitchen. I love love love the pots and want some. They are made here in Portugal and are the best pots I have ever cooked on. Even the knives in drawer are sharp. The home is a 800 meter walk to the beach. A big part of staying in a neighbourhood it the little extras. Like every other morning the fish truck comes by parks on the corner and honks its horn. The locals listen and come out to make their evening dinner choice.
The lady that runs the little store a few steps away is also a benifit. Her bread is fresh every morning as is her fruit and vegg. All which play a huge role in our daily picnics. She speaks very little English and I speak very little Portuguese but together we both speak amazing French!
I did have to play the mum card, as only one of the girls was keen to take lessons . Mariah didn't want to go out on the waves, she was scared and really would have rather watched Philippa. I said she had to go at least once, then after that if she didn't want to go again, Pippa would go on her own. Well after the 1st lesson Mariah wanted to go again and again. If we had the time she would have stayed for the 10 lesson package. I really think that is testimony to Nico and his team, they made it fun and the girls kept wanting to come back. They may not be ready for the surf championships, but they have incredible memories of a cool surf town and its people in Portugal.
There was a bit of a damper to our stay in Peniche, our rental car got the window smashed in, nothing was stolen and it was a hassle to get another car. But it was doable and the insurance will cover most of the costs. It does mean we no longer have SatNav or a brand new never been driven diesel any more. To make ourselves feel better Sean and I headed off to Restaurante Nau Dos Corvos,
that had been recommended to us by Philippa’s surf coach (I call him "cute surfer guy). The restaurant is located in which looks like a bunker at the lighthouse station, but once in it has a triple view of the ocean and looks to the Berlenga Islands. The fresh seafood is based on today’s catch. We both enjoyed the prawns, salmon, linguine, the chef recommended almond tart and lemon Panna cotta . Our meal was prepared with great attention to taste and presentation.
The Berlenga Island was on our list of things to do. This inhabited archipelago of islands is 12km from Peniche.
The Forte de Sao Joao Da Barra is really the goal. A good hike up to the light house, then a climb down of 306 stairs to the Fort across a causeway and you find draft beer for a euro.
Makes the whole climb worth it. Plus it is pretty darn cool. The day was a great success and was finished off with a large gelato.
Our final day of exploring took us to Nazare, a coastal town that has retained a lot of its charm and traditional character. The fisherman’s wives can be seen wearing several petticoats,
they are usually tooting the rooms they have to rent. We headed up on the funicular to the site of the Baroque church of Nosa Senhora da Nazare.
The gentleman working in the church used to live around Edmonton and gave us some of the history of the church.
We ate our picnic at the beach which has really powerful waves rolling in. Philippa came up from a swim with most of the beach in her swim suit.
From Nazare we headed to Obidos,
a lovely walled town , the coaches were still in the parking lot but just leaving, as we timed our arrival for their departure. There is no cars in the town and the shops of full of goodies that appealed to the girls. Sean and I enjoyed a shot of Ginja served up in a chocolate cup. Mariah treated us to dinner and then we were off back to the house to pack.
Tomorrow we head north to a farm near Ciombra, we are all looking forward to the area and the treasures it has to offer