We flew into Lisbon on Wed May 9, arriving at our lodgings in the late afternoon. Due to the longish transit time at Amsterdam, the elapsed time from stepping out of our house into our lodgings was almost 20 hours (almost as long as our typical 24 hours flights to Asia). An hour’s delay was part and parcel of the air traveling experience. Unbeknown to me at that time, my Camino ‘test’ had started at the Amsterdam gate for the flight to Lisbon. Generally, I travel well and un-flustered, having logged many miles. But this time, I had let the circumstances get the better of me. How did that happen? Well, when they announced the boarding for the flight to Lisbon, they also called our names (plus many others) to get our passports verified prior to boarding. So, visualize this – you are in a line to verify your passports, while there’s another line being boarded. And of course, we have our backpacks with us, as we followed the advice of seasoned Camino walkers to not check those in. Flashes of concern that we might not have overhead cabin space appeared as unwelcomed guests. Of course, the fact that most of us had been waiting at the gate 45-60 minutes prior to boarding, raised the question why the airline staff didn’t call us earlier to verify our passports, but only did so, at boarding time? Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the staff seemed oblivious to the need to expeditiously validate the passports and issue the new boarding passes (latter did not have the disbarring statement that passports needed to be verified). If I had been more observant, I should have seen said text on passport needing to be verified on my electronic boarding pass on my smartphone. Rather the staff was chatting with the passengers she was serving. The second staff was engrossed on the phone (which I later overhead, was trying to get members of another party boarded). No excuses, but I started venting to Joon in the line, and I ‘know’ the people around me could hear my vents. Fortunately, my vents weren’t loud or full of emotional derision, but it wasn’t my finest hour. Much later, I realized that I could have better manage myself during this. If you are wondering whether we had problems with overhead space for our two backpacks, the answer is, The Camino Provided! A tip – booking seats at the back of the plane is counter-intuitive as one disembarks last, but it seems to have less competition for overhead cabin space. We also lucked out as it was just the 2 of us, in a 3 seat configuration in our row. Finally, if you ever check in online at home for a Delta international flight, it seems there are self service kiosks at the airport to validate one’s passport. Live and learn.
This first day was just getting over the jet lag. Perhaps we could be macho about it, but the reality is that the body stores up all the stresses that we put on it, and there will be a payback time. We didn’t want latter to happen when we are on the Camino trail. So, let’s be the tortoise, rather than the hare with jet lag!
We really didn’t do much in Lisbon on arrival, as we will have two nights in Lisbon after the Camino. We opted for a cafe/restaurant that was just next to our lodging. Joon had the grilled sardines, and this was the first time I had seen whole sardines (being a city boy). Usually, I see pieces of sardines in a can! I had a grilled octopus. Both were delicious! This neighborhood cafe was also a great people watching spot. I observed that guys tended to catch up for drinks after their work day at the counter. Thus, they stand at the counter, drinking. They didn’t work at the same company as they drifted in and out at different times, wearing different clothes. One even had his soup at the counter!
We had an early night on Wed May 9 in Lisbon. And slept like babies, as most are wont to, after a 20+ hours travel.
While we were waiting for our Lisbon flight (4.5 hours transit) at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I was able to surf the Net and book our train tickets from Lisbon to Tomar.
The train ride comprised an Inter-City and a Regional train service. Which means changing trains in between. The web site is quite clear on that! The fares were reasonable, Euro 13.80 per person from Lisbon to Tomar, which is about 140km/84 miles. I love the train network and system in Europe. The best part is that the European train stations are invariably located in the center of town, or near the historical center. Thus, most lodgings and attractions are all within walking distance. Contrast that if you fly into airports!
Tomar was a change/addition to our original plan. It is where the Knights of Templar had their headquarters. Our lodging, which is a private albergue, is located within 15 mins walk from the Templar’s Castelo and Convento de Cristo.
We arrived at the Tomar train station at about 11am Thursday. I noted the bus/coach depot was located adjacent to the train station. So, a quick detour to the coach ticketing office provided us the schedule info for coaches from Tomar to Fatima, our next stop. I tried unsuccessfully to book the coach on my phone (somehow, the site for one of the coach companies was not set up for e-commerce, and it was difficult navigating the other coach company’s web site). When I tried to book the coach ticket to Fatima for the next day, the ticketing rep responded that I can buy the tickets on the day of travel, that it was not necessary to purchase in advance. Thus, I had to subdue the concern that the seats will be sold out, or the desire to insist on buying there and then. Another lesson on adapting to the local culture. Thus, it was prudent to plan ahead, but one should also accept that one doesn’t need to be in total control of every step ahead. A small lesson that will probably be magnified on the Camino trail looming ahead.
During our walk from the train station to our lodging, I spotted a neighborhood mercado. We stopped there, as I had forgotten to pack shaving cream (it was painful trying to shave with just soap that morning when we departed from Lisbon). We also bought a bar of dark chocolate, 72% cocoa. I have to admit that European chocolates are in a class of their own. They have less sugar content and a richer texture compared to American ‘chocolate-candy’.
Since our lodging’s check in time was 2pm, we decided to eat first. I called up my friend, Senor Yelp on my phone. He provided a list of restaurants and the top 2 appeared to be in the vicinity of our lodging. I browsed the reviews of the restaurants, and was initially uncomfortable with the paucity of and very dated reviews (2015, 2016). Regardless, we decided to frequent the restaurant at the top of the list since it was in the general vicinity of our lodging.
As we neared this restaurant, there was a cafe nearby. Joon did not take a fancy to any of the cafe offerings. One thing we quickly learned is that restaurant names are not necessarily displayed prominently on the walls. So, we spotted the Yelp restaurant’s name on a chalk board standing on the ground. We entered the restaurant, and spotted two diners sitting at their respective tables. The owner/chef came out and greeted us. She explained that she only had two dishes at that time (I gathered somewhat that the other ingredients will arrive later in the day), ribs and veal. While we try our best to keep to a pescatarian diet, we are not dogmatic about it. We believe that when we travel, we need to experience the local cultures as best as we can, and all cultures, express themselves in their cuisine. So, we ordered both entrees. Both were delicious, and came with rice, fries, salad and bread. We noted the three different options for carbohydrates! We left the bread totally un-touched. By the way, we haven’t eaten fries for many moons. Our stomachs were happy. We turned down the desserts initially. I checked the time and noted we had an hour to go before check in. So, changing our mind, we decided to go with coffee and the most requested (and sweeter) dessert. What clinched the dessert option was when the chef informed us that on a prior occasion, a group of diners were willing to wait for her to make the dessert from scratch. If it was that good, we should try it. She also told us how she ate it, which was, to take a small teaspoon of the dessert and dip/spoon it with the (unsweetened) coffee. The dessert was a combination of a creme brulee (without the layer of caramelized sugar) and tiramisu-like dough. It was really good. Another adaption to European culture, having coffee at the end of a meal, even at lunch time! This restaurant was a gem in disguise when the bill was presented. It was probably the best valued meal we had in Europe or in USA, even going back a decade or so, before inflation took its toll.
Our lodging was located within a pedestrian retail area, with various shops and restaurants/cafes. We were obviously not intending to shop for anything before our Camino, despite the various attractive Templar-designed offerings. that caught our eyes. We did succumb to a couple of pins that we pin onto our cap/hat respectively. It will help us recall our time in Tomar without excessively adding to our material possessions!
I must share that our bedroom in Tomar was unusually decorated. One wall had many hand drawn handkerchiefs pinned. An adjacent wall described the old tradition where girls would hand over their hand drawn handkerchiefs to the young men they were interested in. Check out the pictures below (may need to fix upload of these pics later if it doesn’t appear).
A close up of one handkerchief. Truly a labor of love.
Our afternoon outing was to the Convento de Cristo. We stopped by St John the Baptist church, and spent some prayerful time inside. I lighted some (electrically charged) candles for family members and intentions. It was a great spiritual start to our travels.
The walk to the Convento was along a rocky path, which we could easily accept had been there over the centuries. The Convento was a 12th century was a Templar stronghold. When the Templars was dissolved in the 14th century, this Portuguese branch became the Knights of the Order of Christ, which subsequently supported the famed Portuguese maritime travels. We spend an easy 1.5 hours visiting. Some highlights included the Tree of Life mural, inside chapel and the exhibition. Re latter, this was the first time I had seen figurines depicting the Holy Trinity – Father, Son & Holy Spirit.
The inside chapel. Beautiful wooden mural panels, statutes. Soak that in, and don’t rush through like a tour group did, when we were there!
One of the wooden panel murals. This depicts Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
The Tree of Life mural on exterior wall. The base is the tree trunk, and branches on the sides.
One of many Trinity figurines. The Holy Spirit is depicted as a dove. Note the globe of the earth at the base.
This Friday morning will be an easy one before we catch a coach to Fatima just past noon.
We learned quickly that having our private room next to the kitchen meant that we woke up with the earliest risers having their breakfast. Several of these early risers were Camino walkers. At breakfast, I chatted with various guests, a Canadian couple walking the Camino from Lisbon. Others were just vacationing in the area (Irish guys, Swiss girl by herself). The subject of stamps for the credential came up, and one of the guests shared that it was available at the front desk.
Joon had previously asked a FB group, so, we knew we could collect stamps in our credentials even outside our Camino route. We didn’t have time to visit the cathedral in Lisbon before catching the train to Tomar. That’s when the thought struck me that we should try as much as possible to have stamps from churches or other notable locations. Thus, our first stamp is from St. John the Baptist Church in Tomar. Is it a total co-incidence that our parish back in USA is also John the Baptist? Divine sign?
Dinner on Thu night was probably a desperate attempt to get to bed early, eating at a nearby modernized hamburger joint. Our stomachs have not been subjected to hamburgers for many years in USA, so, it was definitely asking a lot from mine, to accept this.
It’s probably where Joon’s salmon salad led to some tummy upset, causing her to throw up on the coach journey to Fatima the next Fri morning.
On appearances, Fatima has transformed into a pilgrims destination. There were a number of high rise hotels and apartment blocks. Not to mention the numerous shops selling all Fatima related items. Despite this, the people that one meets, in the cafes, in the shops, none of them exhibited any arrogance or distaste at the influx of tourists and pilgrims. Unlike a city which will remain nameless where I felt that everyone was trying to ‘fleece’ every non-resident. Their friendliness was genuine and I appreciated that it was way of making a living for them.
Clearly, Mother Mary’s appearances to the three children has helped transform and elevate the living standards in this area. This can be seen in the infrastructure, the quality and size of homes, the general well being of the peoples. But it takes perhaps a deeper look, to see the depth and strength of their spiritual faith. This was clear to us, as we approached the Basilica. There were numerous caravans, trailers, tents set up as people flocked to Fatima for the anniversary celebrations this coming Sunday, May 13 (the first appearance by Mother Mary).
We desired a spiritual start to our Camino, and Fatima was the spark to the tinder. We said rosaries for our intentions in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. Fortunately, or perhaps some spiritual happenstance, as we ended our prayers, we could see the church attendants clearing the front of the church. A short service was then conducted in Portuguese by the pastor, with the organ player and a singer in attendance. The acoustics were absolutely phenomenal.
This basilica also housed the mortal remains of the three children, Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia. Their souls are already in heaven, as promised by Mother Mary. It’s comforting to know they are praying for us.
Postscript – I revised this post several times as I realized that it’s much harder to record one’s contemplations, as the first draft invariably defaulted into a chronological accounting. Which was not really the intent of the blog.
Rome2rio app was invaluable for checking the various local transport options from town to town.