We leave Evora and stop at a mall on the road. We really want to find some Portuguese music Cd’s as we’re listening to radio RFM whenever we’re in the car. Problem is, although we like a lot of the music we have no idea of names of songs or artists, and because of this and the language barrier, we can’t explain to the sales person what it is we want. So we settle on a few things and go back to the car to find out what it is we’ve bought. Incredibly we’ve bought the one song we most wanted ( for the purists it’s Andre Sardet – Quando eu tu falei de amor – an astonishingly beautiful song) and I’m confident we’ll actually listen to it once we get home (we always buy foreign music when we travel and rarely listen to it again) which we do.
We drive out of the Alentejo, listening to our music, in the direction of Tomar. It’s somewhat out of the way, but we’ve determined it’s the kind of place we’ll like so we’re happy to detour. We park the car and walk to the Museo Luso-Hebraica Abraham Zacuto, a fifteenth century synagogue now preserved as a museum. It is apparently one of very few to survive the fifteenth century inquisition (most people think of the inquisition as Spanish, but King Manuel, under pressure from Spain, joined in later) and very interesting. It has letters and messages from people all over the world and is very sobering.
We trek up the hill to the Convento de Cristo, Tomar’s main attraction. It was built by the Knights Templar back in the twelfth century and is set on a hill overlooking the town. The view from the top is superb, but it’s the actual structure that impresses. Firstly it’s huge – there’s no way we can see most of it – and the art and architecture is amazing. It’s agreat place to wander around, and when we’re done inside, we stroll through the gardens outside surrounding the walls. it’s really all another example of the terrific surprises this country keeps serving up.
At the bottom of the hill we locate our room for the night at Residencial Sinagoga, the name of which is about it’s only interesting feature. It’s the most basic, blandest room one can imagine, so the old travel cliché – the room is only to sleep in – is very apt. Strangely, Rough Guide describes it as a ‘smart place’. We can’t really see that.
We go out to look for dinner. There are very few places on offer and we crisscross the town numerous times. It’s our second last night in Portugal and I really want grilled chicken, similar to what Liora had our last night in Lisbon. But I haven’t been able to find it anywhere so I’m a little frustrated. We walk and walk but whereas the tourist attractions in Tomar are spectacular, the eating establishments are less so. So eventually we give up and have an expensive, less than satisfactory meal. We walk on a while and stumble upon a small carnival like celebration apparently a fundraiser for the local soccer team. It’s a lot of fun, VERY authentic, and we love it. There’s agreat smell coming from somewhere so we walk towards their food area. It’s grilled chicken, plain and simple, no frills attached, just what I wanted. My mediocre expensive meal was filling though so I have to pass up this opportunity. Luckily, the authenticity of the whole experience makes up for this.
We wake up next day after a slightly uncomfortable night at our residencia. I forego my morning shower as the towels are rock hard. The place was cheap though and does offer a semblance of a breakfast. We drive out of Tomar and onto Obidos. My original plans had us skipping Obidos as being too touristy but it’s so well situated on the way to Lisbon that it seems we must go there.
We park in the overflow parking – there are a lot of cars and busses – outside the walls and go in. It is packed with people, so it lacks the charm of the empty Alentejo towns like Marvao and Castelo de Vide, but it is buzzing and beautiful. There are no cars within the walls which is nice and the main drag which climbs slowly uphill is one long pedestrianized street which is chock a block with tourists and souvenir shops. That’s not all that bad for us as we are in fact looking for gifts for our kids, which unfortunately we’ve left till the last minute. except of course for our soccer crazy youngest child Benjy – we bought him a Portugal shirt in Lisbon and could have done that fifty times over in this soccer mad country. We wander around until we eat a simple tuna lunch at one of the restaurants, all of which seem to have the same menus.
After that we climb the old walls all the way to the old Castelo – now a pousada – at the top. It’s an excellent walk – not nearly as hair raising as the books suggest, but with wonderful views of the town below and the teeming activity. We walk back down as the tourist hordes (we’re part of them, just not packaged) start leaving.
We’re spending our last night in Sintra. Of course we’ve already been there, so we’re in no great hurry. When we get to our lodging, Pensao Residencial Sintra, our very friendly hosts encourage us to visit Quinta da Regaleira, a fantastically fun villa with incredible gardens. The house is full of mythical themes, apparently commissioned by a mining and coffee tycoon known as Monteiro dos Milhoes (Moneybags Monteiro). As entertaining and interesting as the house is – and it is – the gardens are even better. They wind uphill packed with fountains, grottoes, lakes and some underground caverns. It’s a wonderfully fun place and not for the first time we realize how much our kids would have enjoyed this.
Afterwards we go for dinner. Alas, still no grilled chicken (we have baked chicken, very good, but not what I wanted). In the morning, we’re off early – the route to the airport is jam-packed with traffic but very easy- return the car and the cellphone to Hertz, and fly out.
An amazing trip in a terrific country.