Sunday, 29 January 2012

The American Suburbanite in Portugal: Markets, Monasteries,and Fishing boats

Our first destination of the day was the market at Caldas da Rainha. It was mostly local produce with a couple of bread trucks, one meat and cheese vendor, and a flower stall. We made our way around stopping for bread, olives, and bacon. We also picked up some fruit, beautiful oranges, strawberries, and my obligatory bananas.

After dropping our shopping off at the villa, we set off for Alcobaça, and I drove us there! I only scared my husband a little. He said I drove too fast (pot calling kettle black) and he thought I was going to drive over one round about. I will admit it came up a bit fast, but I handled it just fine! I think my fear of downshifting comes into play if I slow down too much too fast. Ah well, no one got hurt!

Alcobaça is centered around a medieval Catholic Monastery. This anchor to the town is now a UNESCO World Heritage sight. Across the square from the monastery were cafes and shops,and even in January a number of people were sat outside enjoying their lunch. Lovely as it was, we did not go in or stay long because my husband recalled another monastery more grand than Alcobaça.

We returned to the car, and ate our chorizo breads we bought at the market. My husband now driving,we headed towards Batalha. As soon as you come into town the enormous monastery is visible. Batalha monastery is also a UNESCO world heritage sight. It was commissioned in 1385 in honor of the Portuguese victory in battle over the Castilians. It was a 200 year project with beautiful results.

We were unaware of its UNESCO status upon arriving and wandered into a side door. I was instantly in awe by the light inside. Most gothic churches I've entered have been dimly lit, but here the interior was bathed in light. Bright white stone decorated with the refracted light from the stain glass windows could make the lowliest of man feel spiritually uplifted. We did not spend much time inside, as we were whistle stop touring, however for €6 each we could have gone through gardens, chapels, and cloisters.

Our last stop of the day was Nazare. A coastal village known well by big surf riders thanks to rides like this one:

Although on the day of our visit the surf didn't look quite that impressive, if he was towing in, he must have been near the mouth of the bay.

We stopped first at the cliff top looking down on the bay. The old men and women sat up there gossiping about the days events. I am sure my husbands shorts in January brought up a few comments about tourists as well, it would have in Florida at these temperatures! We drove along the top, past the Casa da Rosa (the B&B my husband stayed in before buying his first holiday villa on the Silver Coast) and a big hotel before turning around. We saw a few women walking through the recently cut pines collecting cones (for pignolia perhaps) and firewood. We decided to stop and collect a little wood as well before heading down to the beach.

Nazare is as much a fishing village as Peniche must have been before becoming a commercial fishing port. Women in traditional dress sat next to large racks selling the fish their husbands presumably caught. A man fixed his fishing nets on the beach. Another man on a bench with his buddies, no longer fishing, but selling miniature nets to tourists. Loads of people walking up and down the promenade. All the sights and sounds of a village steeped in tradition yet trying to keep up with the modern world.

Although we have been up and down beaches along the Silver Coast, some boasting resident dolphins, we had minimal wildlife sightings at all, let alone cetaceans. I did get very excited at the end of the pier in Nazare though, I spotted a massive jellyfish very close to the concrete rick rack that protects the man made seawalls. It had to be as big as a basketball. It was do big it was able to swim against the waves which would have obliterated it against the concrete. As a marine biologist, plankton is equally as exciting as charismatic mega fauna!

Once again, after I upload a couple of pictures, they start to choose their own order... They are:

The fishing village of Nazare

The monastery at Alcobaça

Over looking Nazare

Inside the monastery at Batalha

The Caldas da Rainha market


The monastery at Batalha

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