Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Portugal Esta Na Merda

The title above was graffiti on a bridge we passed...Portugal Is The Shit! I may not be 100% on side with that but it ain't bad.
We left Tomar pretty early and gassed up on the way out at about 1.65 Euros or about $2 per litre. It is a good thing we are not driving all that much, and will probably end up at under 1000 km in all. This little car has used only about 6.8l per 100km according to the built in gauge, which is not bad at all especially since a lot has been hilly and low speed, though not city stop and go.

Driving to Peniche was also mostly on back roads, and pretty much easy navigation and just by map. At Tomar we had a bought tickets that allowed us entry to not only the Convent there but also those at Alcobaca and Batahla so our route was planned in that direction. This took us past Fatima again and this time we managed to find the major site there, the large Sanctuario.

Fatima is the holiest Catholic site in all of Portugal and as such attracts huge numbers of pilgrims. The biggest event here occurs in about a week, but there was something big happening this weekend too. We saw many folks en route to the sanctuary and lots were there, even camped in the parking lot, when we arrived. The crowds we saw though were dwarfed by the venue which apparently can hold over a million people! It is larger than the St Peter's Square at The Vatican. On this weekend there was something going on but we did not stay long enough to find out, just long enough to see a few thousand of the devotees, some of them on their knees.

Batahla was next and it took no effort to discover the large church and convent there. A quick tour here and we were on the road to Alcobaca where we also were quick but stopped for a coffee and pastry. Until now we had seen very little of the kinds of tourist traps we had sort of expected. At these 2 locales there were a few booths and small shops selling souvenirs but really not that many. They also were not busy though we were seeing more tourists than on the previous days at Sabugal and Coimbra but never crowds. This was not the case later on at Obidos.

Nazare was also on our route, and the first right on the coast. I had heard that Nazare was not going to be our kind of town, as it was really just an overinflated beach resort which it sure appeared to be when we rolled in. Yes the ocean and beach were right there and impressive but condos and crap shops crowded right up to the water and commercialism was in full swing. Again not crowded really but ready for crowds. Surf shops and bathing suit stores, fast food and bars, women hawking apartments for rent... It may actually be really nice, and it sure does have a nice beach but not really our style.

The weather may be affecting tourist traffic, as it has not been great. Once again the day has been misty and mixed clouds, with temps in the low 20's, so not ideal for sun worshippers. It's nice for us though. I guess the economy is more of a factor for tourism, as I suppose folks are just staying at home. The big months for tourists of July and August are still ahead though.

Before long we arrived at Peniche, but not before passing through Obidos where the tourist trapism seemed to be in full swing and working well. However we still had to find a room so kept on going knowing we would be in the area for a days and could come back the 20 km easily enough.

Peniche is a fishing community, or at least historically it is. A local told us that it has changed a lot in the last 30 years. It has turned to tourism as well though not to the extent of Nazare, one of our reasons for coming here. The other is the access to the Berlenga Islands. These are a small archipelago about 15 km off the coast and boats touring them leave from the harbour here...sometimes.

We arrived late enough in the day that a boat trip to the islands was not possible right away, not that we wanted to rush over anyway. However we did buy tickets from the first booth for what was the smallest boat that did regular trips over. His boat took 10-12 people and we planned to come back the next morning. Luckily for us we had no agenda for these 3 days, and had not booked anywhere else. Peniche itself was perhaps not worth 3 days on its own, but the weather dictated the boat tours. 

The next day was Sunday and the weather was ok, but there were not enough people booking for our boat to go so we took off with the car for Obidos and toured the very neat old walled city there. Unfortunately it was very touristy and even is known as the wedding city being as picturesque as it is. We also noted prices were getting higher on the trinkets and snacks.

I should mention our accommodation in Peniche. As we arrived in town we were flagged by an older woman with a sign promising a room for rent. At first we ignored her and drove past, but ended up parking near where we saw her and she trotted over with her sign. In gestures and various other communication styles we found out she had a room with private bath for 25 Euros in her home. We took a look and said ok, even though the room was decorated in a pretty tacky kind of way, with a naked woman painting on one wall, statues of Fatima, Buddha and the Madonna (not the original madonna) on the dresser. In these smaller towns places like this are fairly easy to find, but it was the first we took advantage of. It turned our to be very comfortable and convenient and came with a puppy. Yep, a 3 month old (I'm guessing) Jack Russell named Luna. Pretty adorable but an untrained little shit-box he turned out to be.  

Anyway, eventually we got our boat trip to the nature preserve at Berlenga. We had to go on another boat as the smaller boat operator found the wind and waves a bit high for his craft, so we joined the next larger one over and took off at 10 AM yesterday, to come back at 4 PM. The crossing itself takes about an hour. 

It also was too much wind and waves for some of our tour mates as well. Of the 14 passengers, 3 took advantage of the little plastic bags that First Mate Gilligan scampered about passing out. One guy lost it (literally) for about 3/4 of the trip, and a girl across from us succumbed about half way. Linda lasted a bit longer, but blamed it on the coffee she had instead of tea. Several others looked quite green but I did not get a chance to poll them as to their caffeinated beverage of choice. I had coffee and I felt just fine, despite the 5 foot swells. 

Luckily for everyone on board the sea was a bit more calm on the way back and the skipper even enlisted Captain Jack Spaniard (my name for one of the passengers) to hand around a jug of port. For some reason more folks did decline than accepted though. 

Food in Peniche was all centered around seafood understandably. We have tried to keep our costs down by doing some picnic-ing. We pick up buns and cheese, sausages, cucumbers, juice and other things when we can but it is not always easy to find a store.  Restaurants and bars are easy to find, as well as pastry shops. We had a couple of over-the-top good meals there including a Monkfish stew with rice, prawns and clams. Not only good but huge, especially after the inevitable appetizer plate of buns, olives, cheese etc. and an amazing ceviche type plate. The next night it was an octopus salad that was unbelievable melt in your mouth tender. I didn't think you could make octopus so soft but delectable. 

1 comment:

Jess said...

Mmm octopus...