Northward, to the Portuguese Holy Land.

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Lisbon Day 5


After a whirlwind improvisational ‘tour’ with relatives, of the beautiful Setúbal Peninsula, the area immediately south of Lisbon, we got up early again for another day-long adventure outside of Lisbon. Neither Susete or I are big on the idea of organized tours while travelling (God forbid we be part of those massive hordes of 40 person groups trampling the city sidewalks!), but this time we decided to go with one. We were about to visit 4 different towns in one day and there was only a group of 7 of us going in a van, so we wouldn’t have to be stuck on a giant tour bus. Besides, the price was affordable enough that if nothing else, it was worth it for transportation alone.

We met our tour guide by the Hard Rock Cafe in town (assuming they chose that location because it’s recognizable to North American tourists). Hugo, a local Lisboeta, from Inside Lisbon tour company pick us up and then we headed out to another location to pick up the rest of our group… in the end it was the two of us, 4 crazy Brazilians, and Sol, a super friendly Argentinian who was to become our travel friend for the day.

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Basilica at Fátima


Our first stop was in the town of Fátima, to fulfill a dream of Susete’s mom, to visit Portugal’s most holy place.

Portugal is a devoutly Catholic country, and Fátima was only a country community until 1917, when 3 children from the shepherd community in the area began witnessing a series of visits from an apparition of The Virgin Mary… now referred to as “Our Lady of Fátima”, or “Nossa Senhora do Rosário de Fátima”) in Portugal and the Açores. According to the children, Lúcia, Jacinta, and Francisco, the apparition visited them 6 times and delivered an apocalyptic message of ‘Three Secrets’ which involved, World Wars 1 and 2, and the assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II.

After driving about 1hr north from Lisbon, we arrived in town, and as we were looking around, Hugo let us know that Fátima pretty much didn’t exist as a town before the 1917 occurrences, and the entire town only stands as it does now, because it’s a holy pilgrimage place. He’s absolutely right, as there is pretty much nothing around town outside of the central holy site area, which includes the original chapel built over the site of the original apparition (which was just a farmer’s field before May 13, 1917), a large Neo-Classical Basilica, and a brand spanking new mega church that almost resembles an athletic stadium. Oh yes, and let’s not forget the many small souvenir kiosks.

I’ve never been a very religious person… in fact, partly due to my university degree in Religious Studies, I’ve spent many years questioning and studying all religions, which has lead me to not necessarily follow one over another… but this was a very important trip for my wife, and her for her family, and if I’ve learned nothing else in my years studying religion, it’s that people’s faiths should be respected no matter your own beliefs.You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the beauty of religious places in the world. Ironically, when we’re travelling it’s usually me who constantly says, “Can we go in??” as we pass each and every church that we come across along our adventures. At Fátima, it’s hard not to appreciate the devoted faith that people have. The absolute passion to believe in something with all your heart and soul… frankly it’s something that’s quite often missing in our world today… not just from a religious standpoint, but just the devotion, passion and love for something. Then again, I guess if you go on the TTC nowadays, you can think people feel that way about their iPhones.

Mosteiro Batalha

Mosteiro Batalha

After leaving Fátima, we a quick stop in the small town of Batalha, close to where Hugo’s father is from, to visit the Mosteiro de Batalha. This monastery is amazing, and reminded me a lot of Notre Dame in Paris, as it posses the same flying buttress design that was revolutionized by it’s Parisian counterpart. The town was made a holy site after the Portuguese won a battle there during it’s wars against Spain, preserving it’s Portuguese identity.

The beach of Nazaré

The beach of Nazaré

Hugo then drove us out to the coastal fishing town of Nazaré, which is famous for holding the world record of the largest wave ever surfed. Garret McNamara surfed a 78ft wave there in 2011 (which is the official record according to Guiness), and has since claimed that he recently surfed a 100ft wave, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

Nazaré has a huge, beautiful beach on the lower half of town, but the one thing we found was that many restaurants were really milking the arrival of tourists, serving underwhelming food at ‘tourist’ prices. This was the one and only time that we came across the unfortunate byproduct of tourism during our whole trip. At the upper half of town, on top of the cliffs, you can get a spectacular view of the beach and lower town… reminiscent of the view you get in Nice, France.

Castelo Óbidos

Castelo Óbidos

Our last stop was to visit the still-fortified medieval town Óbidos. This town is well known by locals and tourists for being well preserved throughout time, as it still has it’s full fortified walls surrounding it, and has kept much of it’s original design through history. Like many of Portugal’s towns, Óbidos has ancient roots… first being settled by a Celtic tribe, then used as a Phoenician trading post, then settled by Romans, and then the Moors, who ultimately built the large fortified castelo (castle) on the hilltop, which is now a pousada (historical site turned into a hotel). The preservation of this town is due to it being run by women. In 1210 the Portuguese King Afonso II, gave the town as a gift to his wife, Queen Urraca. Since then, it’s been in the hands of the Portuguese Queens, who has largely kept it the same as it always was. A beautiful town it is.

After returning home to the Alfama district that evening, we decided that our last dinner in Lisbon will be back at the place we had our first dinner, the tiny little tasca, O Beco, right in the alleyway by our apartment. Another night of soul-satisfying food was had, with a second round of Porco Alentejana, this time accompanied by tempura battered green beans (tempura was actually invented by the Portuguese, but perfected by my Japanese ancestors), and grilled bacalhau (salt cod). A perfect way to end the day. This little tasca remains one of my favourite restaurants I’ve eaten at, in all my travels.

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