Wild Berries - Coda

Trip Start Feb 15, 2007
Trip End Jul 17, 2007

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Last days of the trip and still a lot left to see - many scattered towns around the country (especially in the north) that I will have to miss and the whole Lisboa area that I managed to avoid for all these months on the premise that I would have to go there anyway to catch my plane back to Brazil. Well, now time is very short, so if I am to see any more than the Lisboa airport, I've got to rev the engines up and do a sprint for the last lap.


First goal - Batalha, a small town close to Leiria that harbours a monastery I wanted to visit, so first thing in the morning I packed my stuff and headed for the train station - bad decision, as I found out that long distance train connections outside the main Porto - Coimbra - Lisboa - Algarve axis are very poor - I would have to take three different trains to reach Leiria (and if you know the size of Portugal it should be obvious that needing to take three different trains to get anywhere is a clear sign of poor connections). Well, no sweat, just make a half turn and cross the city again to reach the bus station, then wait about two hours for the bus to leave and still arrive in Leiria earlier than you would by taking the train. From there it was a very short and rather impressive bus ride to Batalha - the town (or maybe it is more of a village) is impossible to miss, you are on the road watching the usual boring landscape and then a huge gothic building that looks completely out of place in such a small town passes by. That must be Batalha, I guess...
I got there just in time to miss the monastery's opening hours, so I found myself a place to stay, had a walk around town and retired to watch the 'new wonders' result. Of the Portuguese 7 wonders one I had visited and the remaining six were all crammed in this week's schedule - seems I chose my route right, and just in time. For the world's 7 wonders, well... the Christ won, so I just called the election bogus and decided to ignore it. Not that it is worthless, but it is simply not comparable to some others (that lost) from any point of view.
Losing one day made my schedule even tighter, so the next morning I woke up early to visit the monastery (well worth the visit) and left straight to Alcobaça, to visit another monastery (and the third so-called 'Portuguese wonder' on my list).
When I got there, though, I found out there were no buses for that day to the next town I needed to visit, so I would have to spend the night in Alcobaça. On a closer inspection it turned out that it was not easy at all to find a place to sleep there. That is completely beyond my understanding, as I have found plenty of hostels in much smaller towns with no really big attractives with ease, so according to my logic there should be some in this reasonably-sized town with a grand monument just elected a Portuguese wonder. Anyway, after much asking I got to what seemed to be the only guest house in town and couldn't find anyone to greet me. That's when I discovered that my attempt to cross Portugal on foot had been a sound success - of course the declared goal failed miserably, but there was the side effect of raising a lot my threshold for hardship tolerance, so I can now afford risks that I normally wouldn't buy. Bottom line is I visited the monastery still carrying my backpack and then went to the bus station to get a ticket to the nearest town to my next destination, willing to walk the last kilometers if needed.
It wasn't needed, as when I got to said town I could find a ticket for the same day to Óbidos, next town and next wonder in line. I only went there because a lot of people insisted that I had to go, that it was a place that shouldn't be missed. Normally I dislike this kind of thing, to visit places that everybody visits instead of the overlooked ones, but at least in this instance I was wrong - it was a good thing I went to Óbidos, a walled city in medieval-style. Looks like Marvão, except that Óbidos is larger and more active, while Marvão feels like a ghost town.
When I got there and finally found a place to stay (hard in a town where 'hostel' 'pension' and 'guest house' seem to be euphemisms for 'really expensive hotel') I still had time left to climb the castle walls, tour around the city on top of them and perch on a tower to watch the sunset. After three towns in one day, it was time to use the brakes.

Next stop - Peniche, a beach town I chose to visit just because I had seen a postcard of  an island close to it and thought it looked nice. I got there too late to arrange a visit for the same day, so I spent the afternoon idling around the city, seeing the beaches, recharging the batteries. Next morning I caught the boat to the Berlenga island - very small, but very beautiful - emerald sea, bright green foliage under the clear blue sky... except when the seagulls are flocking over your head. Dangerous animals these seagulls, I even got shot once, when they wanted to prevent me from taking a particular path. I could swear it was on purpose. The island was nice to visit, but if you do not intend to be on its beach, soon you have explored it completely and have to kill time before the boat returns - just in time to pack things up in Peniche and speed up again for the last few destinations.

Next in line - Mafra, to visit the convent which some king (forgot which) made a promise to build one if he had a son. It is a huge convent, I can't quite figure out these kinds of promises. How much power and wealth do you need to make a promise to order such a thing built in case you have a son and then actually keep that promise? I didn't get to Mafra in time to visit the convent, so I had to find a place to sleep and again I had some trouble. Looks like there is only one hotel in town, and nothing else... I give up trying to figure out these dynamics.
Next morning, after a spectacular fall during the shower (why do they make the bathtub floor smooth, thin and curved?) I took the guidd tour to the convent and then went straight to Sintra, where I got to wander around the old town before nightfall and then see the Moorish castle and the Pena palace the next day.
The Pena palace was really worth the title of Portuguese wonder on my opinion. According to my improvised architectural knowledge, it is a blend of many incongruous styles, like Moorish, Indian, Manueline and... let's call it Fairy-talish. They really don't fit well together, you have to look at the palace in sections, forgetting one to understand the next for a moment, and in the end put them all together. It's a very beautiful thing to behold after you get used to the weirdness and it's refreshing to see something actually different - I think I've had enough gothic cathedrals for a while.
But don't gaze too much, there is still another city left to see...


Last one now - Lisboa. I got tired of the marathon, so I decided to just spend most of my time strolling aimlessly along the center. It was great to stumble upon some avenue I had been to in my first day in Portugal and note the difference. The difference in appearance, as winter turned into summer and the difference in feeling, as a strange place became familiar.
I then reserved a day to see the remaining two wonders - the Jerónimos monastery and the Belém tower and then I met one of my first hospitality club guests, Matthias, who was visiting Portugal with a friend. We closed my stay in Lisboa with an excellent night out in Bairro Alto and then went to Porto. They to visit the city, and I to pack my things for the return trip to Brazil. Time is up.
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