Sunday: Alcobaça to Tomar
@ Adrian Tritschler · Sunday, Sep 27, 1998 · 6 minute read · Update at Sep 27, 1998 · Image Credit

dist. (km)
Today 86.04
Trip 353.5

Today — off to visit the Knights Templar….

Those church bells that I noticed woke me with a vengeance this morning. I shall have to try and remember not to stay quite so close to a church on a Saturday night! I’ve no idea when they started calling people to mass, but I’m sure it was still dark.

Rolling hills have a problem when you’re on a touring bike with a tonne of luggage — you just can’t roll up them! Its 40km/hr down one side, then oh so quickly the bike slows to 10km/hr up the next one, with a rapid change through the gears at the top and bottom of each one.

One overriding impression of today’s ride is the amount of litter on the roadside; water bottles of all kinds, and an enormous number of used disposable nappies. I don’t think its a population thing, I think its just cultural that people throw rubbish wherever they like, with the assumption that a beggar or a street sweeper will pick it up. The water bottles are because nobody drinks tap water, the nappies I guess are a a product of a strongly Catholic country.

I finally saw my first wild animal today — just a magpie. Other than that, the only thing on the roads were more dead dogs, cats and rats…

Some road works and new roads around Leiria had appeared since my map and guide book were produced, mistakenly, I detoured down a steep road then realised that I had to turn around and ride back up it again! Once in the centre of town I made it to the Tourismo and met a girl who spoke perfect English with an incredibly attractive English/American/Portuguese accent. She also speaks fluent French and Spanish, and passable German, something I’m finding quite often here. My lack of languages — and Australian schooling’s lack of languages in general — are really bothering me.

She tried her best to inundate me with maps, brochures, booklets and souvenirs of the region, and I had to explain that there simply wasn’t anywhere to carry them on my bike, so only the most essential were kept. I think I ended up with a tiny ashtray and a ruler — hardly essential really, but it was important to keep her happy!

Somewhere along the road today I had passed a sign pointing to the town of “Châos”, I nearly stopped to take a picture, but was content to just ride past chuckling. Half an hour later there was another sign to the same town and someone had stopped to photograph it — I guess they must have been English or American. It did make me wonder what the name meant in Portuguese though…

The road from Leira was very quiet, hardly any traffic, but the blackberries grow right out across the lane. I have to keep reminding myself not to run over them, a puncture from the thorns would be irritating! No other hardware failures though… touch wood. The broken clip on my pannier is 75% gone, soon it will be time for more rope and wire.

At some point I looked up and saw a castle on the top of the nearest hill and realised that I’ve become inured to them. Only the spectacular ones bring themselves to my attention now!

After arriving in Tomar I spiralled about as seems to happen at each new town, then found the Tourismo and met another very helpful girl. More piles of maps and pamphlets, and directions to a couple of the nearest pensôes. For some reason I didn’t want to try the first one and headed to another just up the main street — a nearly impassable main street, as it is in the process of being dug up and turned into a pedestrian-only thoroughfare.

Pensâo Luz is the first place I’ve stayed where I’ve got my own bathroom. I can rest my back against one wall of the bathroom, place the palms of my hands flat on the opposing wall, and not quite straighten my arms, but it is a bathroom… In fact, judging by the smells from the plumbing, maybe a room with a bathroom isn’t such a good idea!

I cleaned up, then brought the bike in and locked it up in the courtyard. People here are constantly amazing me, falling over themselves to get me to bring the bike up the stairs into the room, or into the courtyard. It contrasts strangely with the looks I’m getting from some of them when I ride past. Its tempting at times to say “I come in peace and mean you no harm.”

Walked up to the Templar’s fortress — HUGE! You could drive a bus through the halls, but as usual in places I’ve visited, there’s no brochures, no maps, no explanations of anything — not in English, not even in Portuguese. Also typical, everything was covered in litter, and symbolic of the attitude was the guy I saw who stepped into the garden and pissed against the fortress wall in broad daylight — less than 100m from the toilets. The lack of signage seems to extend to the road signs as well, I don’t think I’ve yet seen one that includes any distances…

Inside the Templar's fortress at Tomar
Inside the Templar's fortress at Tomar

On the way back down the hill I dropped in and visited the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceiçâo — the church of the Conception. Despite appearances, my travels aren’t turning into a religious pilgrimage — I did bypass Fatima today! It is very apparent that the whole country is oozing with Catholicism though.

Back to more prosaic matters, a seat in a café, a beer to sip, and time to write in my journal. The whole attitude to food and drink and cafés is very civilised. I’m enjoying it immensely. Nowhere does there seem to be any problems with one person eating out alone, its just “Mesa para uma,” and shift the tables around a little so that a table for one appears, usually with a view of the street or passersby for interest.

Dinner this evening was a little above the budget, mostly due to $800.00 for a half bottle of wine, well above what I’ve been paying other nights! It was worth it though, to accompany the magnificent grilled sardines and the rest of the meal. Eating and sipping my wine, relaxing and watching the world go by outside the door. A fine place to be.

Where?

Alcobaça, Tomar.

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