For my December puente break, a fellow teacher and I took a road trip to Portugal. It’s just over the border from Spain and such a short drive from where we live in Córdoba. For the first two days of our trip we explored Lisbon, Óbidos, and Nazaré. It was sunny and beautiful for this part of our round about road trip. But both Friday and Saturday, it rained cats and dogs.
We drove into Porto late Wednesday night in hazy rain. Again, we had such a hassle trying to find our hostel. The address was wrong on the email that they sent but upon searching for it in google maps, we finally got on the right path. It had been a long day of driving for me even with our relaxing stops in the quaint towns.
We slept in after staying up the night before drinking wine and eating pizza with the other inhabitants of our hostel. More people speak English in Portugal than they do it Spain but Ana is really good at understanding Portuguese with its similarities. For me, bits and pieces come through but I wouldn’t be able to speak it.
The first thing on my mind was seeing one of the most beautiful book shops (in the world they say). And indeed it was charming. Well, if you could look past the massive crowd of people who were there to go through, take pictures, and leave. We stood in line to see this small, sliver of a shop for over an hour. And it was raining. It was a relief just to finally see it after being on our feet but also because we could get out of the rain. It was still really hard to appreciate because of all the people crowding. It’s grand feature is a curved red staircase seeming to float among the books. I climbed it to the second floor and looked below to the ladders on tracks ready for people to climb to a high shelf and grab a novel.
I think many Spaniards had the same idea as us and half the people in Portugal seemed to be Spanish. We browsed some shops and encountered many Spaniards browsing and buying trinkets.
It is called Porto after all and you can’t leave without trying some Port wine.
Our last day, Saturday, we visited two more towns on our drive back south. The first was a point of religious pilgrimage for many Catholics: the cathedral and grounds of Fátima. Before we got to the cathedral we passed shops with rows upon rows of Saint Fátima figurines and piles upon piles of rosaries. We walked the path through the trees to get to the grounds. Once breaking through the overgrowth, I was enraptured. A huge patio of gray slate spread before us. It was absolutely pouring rain and looking out past the edge of my umbrella, people of all ages dotted the space.
What caught my eye first was an odd, unexpected sight. I am not Catholic and despite having Catholic friends, I’m still not familiar with all the practices. Although, I’d be surprised if any of my American Catholic friends know all the rituals and dedications. On one third of the courtyard there was a line of white tiles from the top of the slopping hill to the sort of open chapel at the bottom. And in the cold, raining flood people were walking on their knees along this line.
I don’t mean crawling on all fours, they were walking on their knees. Down this slope of 200 meters people offered themselves to Saint Fátima in this way. Some people had a friend walk beside them holding a hand or holding an umbrella. Others had candle sticks a meter long that they held as they shuffled on their knees. On they went, around a dozen people at various points in their journey getting soaked by the rain. Upon reaching the bottom of the slope they then walked on their knees around the chapel. Their dedication fascinated me and I admired their faith.
The starting place was at the left, a huge pyre for lighting candles. Many people crowded in to light and place their candles on the metal holder. We actually arrived in time to see some of the noon service taking place (in Portuguese) in the chapel. After a quick respite from the rain, we left the service to seek the cathedral.
The cathedral was impressive. It was huge, clean, and bright in white stone and crisp lines. It’s modern with stunning stained glass. The stained glass windows didn’t try to recreate an old style but embraced a new flowing design that fit the grandeur of the new church. I loved walking through the hushed space and seeing the Passions of Christ in every alcove.
Back outside, on the opposite end of the courtyard, there was another building for services to hold a large amount of people. In the foyer of the building was a powerful gallery of black and white photographs taken at Fátima. Portraits of people and their faces in pure expressions from exaltation to agony. They were fascinating to observe. The human spirit is incredible to me and seeing such passion leaves me amazed every time. The sheer excess and exquisite detail of everything made stopping in Fátima a favorite experience.
My perfect itinerary had one fault and that was not enough time for Sintra. This picturesque town next to Lisbon needed an extra day to explore. The top spot in Sintra is the Pena Palace so we drove right there. It normally has a a grand view of Lisbon from it’s high spot on the mountain but it was covered in thick clouds. We were folded in fog. It enveloped us in it’s humid embrace. The fog obscured our view but it gave the scenery an other worldly vibe. By the time we finished roaming the gardens of the palace and then making the windy drive back down, dusk had settled over Sintra.
The whole second half of our trip was this way. But instead of being disappointed by the weather, I think it added to the overall effect and uniqueness of the experience. Without the pouring rain it would given me a different perspective of the people walking on their knees in Fátima. Or in Porto, the fantastical air wouldn’t have been as impactful with sunny skies.
What a full and exciting puente we had in Portugal. This small country has so much to offer and still so much more to see! But at least for me, I had to go back to school and my life as an auxiliar in the weeks before Christmas break.
Have you been to Portugal? What was one of your favorite memories?
This was our route for our whole journey:
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