A pilgrimage to Fátima

October 7, 2017 - Fátima, Portugal

We woke up early to crash the doors for breakfast at 8am as we needed to be at Marquis de Pombal Square by 8.45am. It was made clear in the paperwork that being late was not an option.

In fact it was 7.50am when we sat down to breakfast and we were already checked out. We made it a lighter breakfast this morning but the woman looking after us this morning understood the need for coffee early. Lattés again for both of us but it was hot and strong.

At 8.25am we had a taxi called and it was only a few minutes later that he arrived. The drive up to Marquis de Pombal Square was relatively easy and we were dropped at the bus area around 8.45am the designated time. A quick look around and Margaret pointed out that there was no-one else in the area with luggage. We asked at an Information booth nearby which turned out to be operated by Cityrama, the same group that was operating our tour. She didn't seem certain but we were told a place to wait.

Soon an American guy, Cliff, turned up then his wife Natalie. This was looking like we were the only ones. While we stood there Cliff and Natalie told us half of their life story. Thankfully our guide Joao (call me  'John') turned up and saved us from the rest of the tale, for the time being. We vowed to be careful were we sat in the bus and for any meals.

John explained a bit about where we were going on this trip. It came to light that Cliff and Natalie were on a 6-day tour. Whoops, we thought, we are on a 10-day tour. Turns out that the Southern part is separate tour and added together make the 10-day tour.

We waited until about 9.30am before our bus turned up after collecting other people from their hotels. We had tried ringing the local number to ask about a pick-up but there was only a recorded message in Portuguese that was obviously giving another number to ring and then the chance to leave a message after the tone. We gave up on that idea.

Luckily it was a large coach and only another ten people on board. Margaret and I carefully chose our seats and were told, in Aussie accents, to just throw our backpacks on another seat. So far it was ten Aussies to two Americans.

Then we went around to another hotel to collect another two Aussies and another two Americans. We then seemed to circle round and around the Bullring to get to another hotel for another American couple. That made our group eighteen plus 'John' but it must have been close to 11am before we looked like leaving Lisbon. So far, such a shambles.

We drove past wind-turbines and eucalypt forests or so I am told as I slept for most of the way.

Arrived in Óbidos, an ancient town completely encircled by a wall with gatehouses at either end. We were told we only had 35 minutes to explore the town and maybe taste the Ginja, a sour cherry liqueur served in a chocolate cup. We strolled in through the gate house at our end and climbed the steps up onto the walls. We chose to turn along the western side but discovered later there was not a way down until the far end of the town. After descending through the northern gatehouse we scurried back to the bus along the main road with only a quick glance and a snatched photograph here and there. Although with the record of punctuality so far why should we bother?

Drove on to the fishing village of Nazaré (it is a tourist and holiday mecca now). Destroyed by it's own beauty with only old drawings and photographs to show what it once was. We were shepherded in to a restaurant where John had made a booking for us all. What most of us heard as free (somewhat incredulously) turned out to be 'free to choose what you like'. John's English is a bit dodgy and so far his commentary has reflected that. We mostly get a few basic facts and even then it is hard to interpret because of his pronunciation. Since sounds like science and cement sounds like salmon, so you can imagine there are a lot of confused people in the bus.

Lunch for us was 0.5 litre beer and grilled sardines each, oh and a bread roll (that was €4.50 extra, each) spread with sardine paste (that was free I think). The sardines were good but I am not really up to crunching too many bones. Lunch added up to €35 when you included the €9 for bread and from what I could gather nobody wanted to be there once they understood the reality.

Back to the bus again for a 10 minute drive up to a lookout on the cliffs above the town. There was a great view up the beach to a harbour and river mouth and over the town.

From there we left for Alcobaça. The monastery there was founded by the first Portuguese King, Afonso Henriques, in 1153. The church and monastery were the first Gothic buildings in Portugal.

On then to Batalha the site of the Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória, one of the best examples of Late Gothic architecture in Portugal.

We rushed through the last two stops in about twenty minutes each. We thought John was trying to make up time after being so late getting away from Lisbon.

The tour then went on to Fátima and a fairly bored group spent 35 minutes at some factory that produces shrine edifices or some such thing. Most of us just sat outside but the excuse was that it was a good place for a toilet stop. Rather than go into the factory Margaret and I found large and spotless toilets in a separate area that probably would have accommodated our nine Senoras and nine Hombres without any waiting. Most of the group voiced their displeasure at hanging around here.

Maybe we should have been grateful as we then all piled out of the bus for a walk around the Sanctuary of Fátima before walking back through town and the rest of the Roman Catholic graft shops, I mean gift shops.

Eventually we found our hotel and checked in. Aahhh. A chance to relax for a bit and put our feet up before heading out again to see if we could find somewhere to eat. We found a little café and there were Danny and Robyn (from Pennsylvania). They were just finishing but we shared their table and ordered beers. On the advice of Danny and Robyn we ordered bread and a ham and cheese board. They are a refreshing couple of Americans and we shared a few jokes and whinges without us feeling we had imposed ourselves. Danny and Robyn left to go to Candlelight Procession just as we our food was delivered. We had more beers and some coffee (€16.70 in total for our meal) before we walked back to the sanctuary to see part of the Candlelight Mass. We may have been sacrilegious but we took photos of the crowd.

To give John his due, we now knew the way from the Sanctuary to the hotel and vice versa after being led from the Sanctuary to the hotel earlier. That meant he could leave us to our own devices after we were checked-in to the hotel. That may have been a plus for him, as well as ourselves.

Back to the hotel bar for coffee and a Baileys for Margaret. Well that was an interesting first day. We are really worried about how the tour will go from here. Nobody in the group is particularly happy about the organisation so far and are beginning to show signs of revolt.


Three dead stumps waiting for a taxi
The walls of Óbidos
The walls of Óbidos
The beach at Nazaré

1 Comment

October 13, 2017
Oh dear I hope the tour improves.
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