Adio Lisboa. So much more to explore here and sadly not nearly enough time. The small hill town of Sintra was first on our list of places to visit today.
We instantly fell in love, as we have so many of the Portuguese cities and villages we have visited. Sintra boasts both a Moorish and a Portuguese castle each sitting on separate hilltops. Due to lack of time we visited neither, but due to it being off season we were able to stop and photograph them.
We also spent a couple of hours just wandering through the old town below the castles, meandering the narrow streets and taking photos from towering, romantic vistas of the surrounding countryside. In one of these streets we came upon a small patisserie full of locals. We ordered our now customary cafe con leche along with a few small but attractive pastries. This place looked so perfect you'd think you were in sort of Portuguese Disneyland. The warm and friendly staff served a wonderfully thick, rich cup of coffee blended with the hot, scalded milk that swirled within the cup. Can we even get coffee that tastes this good in America or is the combination of the coffee with the romantic and exotic location?
We finished our stroll through the little town and headed next to Obidos another perfect little village nestled within the ancient walls that surround it. Like so many other cities we have visited, it has suffered for thousand years from one invader after another. First the Celts in the 300's, followed by the Romans, the Visigiths and the Moors.
The wall is 45 feet tall and the steps up to it step and uneven and when you get to the top, beware. There are many places where the inside edge of the wall is a sheer unprotected drop. We managed it and we're rewarded by fabulous views from above the city inside the walls and out across the rolling hills that lie outside them.
Two main narrow streets wind through the town, the upper and lower. They both start near the main gate in the wall. Inside the gate entry way, high up on the wall is a beautiful tile mural made in the local blue colored tiles. Below it sat a lovely old woman patiently sat made her embroidered towels and other hand sewn things for the home. We meant to buy one of her dish towels, only €10, but when we left she was no longer there.
Inside Obidos is mostly shops, a few small hotels, a couple of churches (which were closed) and the castle, at least part of which is a Pousada.
A couple of hours in Obidos seemed about right and we headed back to the car for the drive to our final destination today--Nazare. On our way out of town we stopped to take a couple of photos of the Obidos aqueduct built in the 16th century.
Nazare is a beach town and crazy with sun worshipers in the summer months. But this time of year you practically have the place to yourself. That has its old and bad sides. It is often cold and windy, especially after the sun goes down. Because the weather is so often on the chilly side tourists stay away and consequently many of the restaurants and businesses are either closed or have limited hours. Because of this problem we wound up having dinner at Mr. Pizza instead of a nicer place we had hoped to try.
Nazare is also a lower and an upper city, Sitio, connected by a funicular that rides up and down the sheer cliff giving riders stunning vistas of the lower city and the mile long beach.
We got checked into our hotel and headed out to the funicular. Our hotel choices provide one of the upsides to travel this time of year. Prices are much lower and there is always room in the inn. We were able to stay in nicer hotels as a result of the off season prices and many of them were half empty.
The highlight of our stay in Nazare occurred while in the upper town. We were visiting the 16th century Church of Our Lady of Nazare. The town of Nazare gets its name from the fact that two fisherman brought the Black Madonna from Nazareth in the 7th century. People still walk to the spot above the alter where the Madonna is on display. While in the church square we noticed that a Lenten procession was to take place that afternoon starting at the church. As we sat inside the church we began seeing dozens of folks arrive and gather up a purple robe and some other element used in holy processions.
At 5:30 the church bells began to peel and remained ringing for at least a half hour. The procession pulled together and began to march into the square and then into the street. Hundreds lined the streets and as the elements of the processional slowly walked by, they joined the ranks until there were well over a thousand marching through the street with purple Lenten banners, silver lanterns held high, floats held up by the faithful carrying the cross on one, a statue of Christ on another and a mysterious black draped coffin-shaped object on the third. All were decorated with flowers. VIP's walked under a canopy and bringing up the rear of the procession was a band made up of locals from 8 to 80, all dressed in band uniforms. Those lining the sidewalks fell in behind the band as they played their solemn music.
It was another of those reasons one travels. A serendipitous moment when you come upon something that feels as though it has happened for a thousand years and you momentarily become a member of a community. Amazing!
We were freezing up there in that hilltop village and as the procession marched by the lane leading up to the funicular, we split off and headed back onward the hotel. After warming up for a while we steeped across the street for that dinner at Mr. Pizza. By 9:30 we were asleep.