The day began with breakfast. Nothing unusual about that of course, most days begin with breakfast, but this breakfast was unusual.
I have to say that I did not have very high expectations about eating at Conde de Ferreira Palace but I was soon to be proved wrong. The food and the service itself was excellent but it was the ambiance of the dining arrangements which set it apart from other places that we have stayed.
There was only one large dining table and hotel guests all sat together; this sort of arrangement can be uncomfortable at first but within only a very short time everyone was chatting away to each other. When I say chatting I really mean struggling because around the table there were several different nationalities rather like a meeting at the United Nations but without the interpreters.
The French Canadians from Quebec couldn’t speak to the Germans, the Flemish Belgians couldn’t speak to the Dutch because the French couldn’t understand German, the Belgians couldn’t understand the Dutch and vice versa. No one except the Portuguese could speak Portuguese. But this didn’t matter one jot because everyone could speak English, except for the Americans of course, so everyone was able to satisfactorily communicate with one another. I am forever ashamed of my linguistic ineptitude but today English was the universal language and we all got along rather splendidly.
It was a bright start to the day and we planned a walk out of the town to visit a nearby aqueduct about three miles away that had been recommended to us at the Tourist Information Office..
The small city of Tomar is situated on the river Nabão, a short but swiftly flowing river that carves its way through a deep valley and consequently the town is situated at the bottom of a steep hill which rises quickly away from the banks of the river and requires considerable stamina to make the trek.
The ascent seemed positively endless, every time we were certain that we were at the top of the hill the road tricked us into climbing even further, even Sisyphus would have despaired and we walked out and past edge of town houses that got bigger and grander the further we went. Each one had a big dog that barked like crazy as we passed by and with my cynophobic nerves shattered I wondered why? Why do people keep these obnoxious animals I wonder?
The Aqueduct of Pegões is, it turns out a little known monument and therefore very little visited, totally free access and no tourists.
It was built to bring water to the Convent of Christ in Tomar and is an amazing monument just over about four kilometers long and in some parts reaching a height of a hundred foot or so and made of one hundred and eighty arches and fifty-eight arcs at the most elevated part. The construction started in 1593 and finished 1614 and it is the biggest and most important construction of the Philip I kingdom in Portugal. Wow, who knew that, even the Tourist Information Office doesn’t give it a lot of headline space.
It was a quite astonishing place, no one there but us and some occasional ramblers. There was no entrance fee, no safety barriers and nothing to stop visitors from climbing to the top and carelessly falling over the edge. We climbed to the top and walked a short way out along the elevated section until we realised that this was quite dangerous so after walking out further than was really sensible and clinging desperately to the stones for security we groped our way back to safety and returned to ground level.
This was the sort of place that I am reluctant to leave but after a while it was time to concede that this was the end of the visit and we debated the route back. Should we return by the road and the way that we had come or perhaps take what appeared to be the walking route back along a narrow dusty track?
We were momentarily confused, we had no idea, no map, no SatNav and no clue about the track and bear in mind here that I was with Kim who generally suffers from a chronic lack of direction but who was urging a reckless walk into the woods. I surrendered my common sense approach to these sort of situations and we followed some optimistic signs and set off down the track.
To our surprise, before very long we were in a blackened wilderness of post forest fire devastation. Earlier in the year central Portugal had suffered a scorching summer followed by devastating fires which had wiped out acres of trees and caused several deaths. This was one such area and as we walked now through charcoal and ash we reflected on the power and terror of such an event. Sometimes I am grateful to live in a country where it rains rather a lot.
Eventually we emerged from the blackened wilderness, stumbled across a road back into town and made our way back to the main square where we were ready for an afternoon drink at a pavement bar.
We squandered away the rest of the day, did a bit of exploring through the back streets, enjoyed an hour or so at the Conde de Ferreira Palace and then dined again at the same place as the night before. Once we have found somewhere that we like we are always reluctant to give it up and go elsewhere.