Tag Archives: Culture

Portugal, Lisbon Trams – Then and Now

Lisbon Tram TraditionalLisbon Tram Reality

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Portugal, Lisbon Streets – Art or Vandalism?

Lisbon Tram Grafitti

In Lisbon and throughout Portugal no public place is safe from Spray Paint Vandals…

Lisbon Urban Art

I don’t dislike this…

Lisbon Wall Painting Urban Art

But I don’t like this…

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Where do you stand on the issue of Urban Art or Criminal Graffiti?

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Portugal, a Clothes Line

Lisbon Washing Line

Portugal, Tomar to Coimbra and the story of Fatima

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After a final breakfast at Conde de Ferreira Palace we checked our bags and documents, left and walked the short distance to the railway station and waited with a handful of other passengers for the train to Lisbon.

We weren’t going back to Lisbon of course but first had to go south to make a connection for a train to our next destination – Coimbra.

We were a little early but sat in the sun until departure time and then climbed on board and enjoyed the short journey to Lamarosa where we switched trains to Coimbra.

After a few stops we pulled into a station for the town and pilgrimage site of Fatima and I mention this here only because a few weeks earlier we had visited Ireland and been to the pilgrimage site of Knock which has a very similar story.

Greetings From Knock

In the spring and summer of 1916, nine-year-old Lúcia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco were herding sheep and later claimed that they were visited three times by an apparition of an angel. They said the angel, who identified himself as the “Angel of Peace” and “Angel of Portugal“, taught them prayers and to spend time in adoration of the Lord.

Then, beginning in the spring of 1917, the children reported more appearances of the angel and starting in May 1917, they cranked the story up to a new level to include apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

Fatima Children

These little children look trustworthy enough don’t you think, would they make up such a yarn?  If my children came home one evening with such an unlikely tale I would tell them not to make up ridiculous stories and to forget all about it or they wouldn’t get any supper.

I confess that I am rather sceptical about these stories, I think it is something that is mostly good for tourism and rather conveniently the two boys died soon after in the flu pandemic that swept across Europe after the First World War so could answer no further questions on the matter.  The Virgin Mary and her miracles were not much help to them were they!

Lúcia became a Nun and took a convenient vow of silence on the matter although she did write an account of three secrets and passed this to the Vatican for safe keeping.  All have now been revealed – a vision of Hell (not difficult with a good imagination) the end of the first World War followed by a second (revealed in 1941 so a bit of hindsight might have helped) and a vague warning about persecution of Christians.

The widely reported sightings were the catalyst then for the tiny village of Fátima to quickly become a major centre of Catholic pilgrimage. Two million people visited the site in the decade following the events of 1917.  In 1930 the Catholic Church officially recognised the apparition events as “worthy of belief” and granted a papal indulgence to pilgrims visiting Fátima.

Fátima today is the most visited Catholic Pilgrimage site in all of Europe, I’ll say that again – the most visited Catholic Pilgrimage site in all of Europe,  with even more visitors every year than the Vatican, Lourdes or Santiago de Compostela.   The most visited Catholic Pilgrimage site in the World is The Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico City, where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared in the sixteenth century (yes, you’ve guessed it) to a poor peasant and estimates for annual visitation to the basilica run as high as twenty million, which is a figure getting close to the entire population of Australia.

The most religious country in Western Europe is Malta where in a survey in 2010 95% of the population said that they were practicing Catholics.  Nearby Italy (where the Pope lives) only managed 74%.   Portugal registered 72% and was fifth in the list. The least religious countries are all in the north where over 80% of respondents in Estonia, Norway, Denmark and Sweden all said that religion isn’t very important at all.

Interestingly this survey didn’t seem to include the Vatican State where I imagine the response would surely have been 100%.

Fatima Portugal

Today many thousands of Portuguese Catholics make the pilgrimage to Fátima. The German couple at breakfast in Tomar visited one day and reported that there were eight hundred buses in the coach park all bringing visitors to the sighting of the Virgin Mary.  Not all that surprising really because 2017 is the hundredth anniversary of the sighting, specifically the 13th October.

The Virgin Mary had promised a miracle for the last of her apparitions and on this date a huge crowd of possibly hundred thousand people turned up. What happened then became known as the “Miracle of the Sun”.

Knock Holy Shrine 02

Various claims have been made as to what actually occurred during the event. The three children who originally said that they saw Our Lady of Fátima reported seeing a panorama of visions including those of Jesus, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and of Saint Joseph blessing the people.

According to accounts, after a period of rain, the dark clouds broke and the sun appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky. It was said to cast multicolored lights across the landscape, the people, and the surrounding clouds. The sun was then reported to have careered towards the earth before making its way back to its normal position.

Could this be true, I don’t know. Maybe it was just an ordinary sunset.  I keep an open mind on the matter of  Marian Apparitions, does the Virgin Mary every now and again keep randomly appearing to people in remote towns and villages, maybe!

Anyway this being the hundredth anniversary of the miracle the pilgrimage town of Fátima was planning the Mother of all parties to celebrate.

Fatima 100 year anniversary

After Fátima the train passed through several more towns and villages before arriving in Coimbra where we took a taxi to the city centre IBIS hotel.

I hate taxis, I am a very nervous taxi passenger, I am petrified of the metre which seems to rack up charges at an alarming rate, faster than the acceleration of an Apollo rocket on its way to the moon and I spend any taxi journey fixated upon the clock.  I am almost as afraid of taxis as I am of dogs, but that is another story.

As it turned out, the journey cost less than €10 so I was panicking about nothing really and soon we had checked in, approved our room and were ready to visit the historical centre of Coimbra.

Coimbra Mosaic

* A Marian Apparition is a reported supernatural appearance by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The miracle is often named after the town where it is reported.

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Portugal, A Red Door

Portugal, Tomar and The Convento de Cristo

Tomar Portugal Castle of the Knights

There was a steep path to be negotiated to get to the Convento and by midday it was really quite hot so it became quite uncomfortable just to get to the top of the hill.  Luckily it plateaued out by the time we got to the entrance and paid our €6 entrance fee and went inside.

This was becoming a perfect day and thanks to the distraction of the Festival we arrived later at the Convento than we had planned and this turned out to be a good thing because a lot of the coach tour parties were now gathering up their passengers and beginning to leave.  On the down side we just missed free entrance because we were a few minutes past one o’clock because before that it is free on a Sunday.

Convento de Cristo Tomar portugal

Tomar is one of the most historically important cities in all of Portugal with a history that stretches back to the Romans and probably even before that.   Fast forward a thousand years and after the capture of the region from the Moors in the Portuguese Reconquista, the land was granted in 1159 to the Order of the Knights Templar. In 1160, the Grand Master in Portugal, Gualdim Pais, laid the first stone of the Castle and Monastery that would become the headquarters of the Order in Portugal and from here they pledged to defend Portugal from any subsequent Moorish attacks and raids

The history is important so please bear with me here.  In 1314, under pressure from Pope Clement V, who wanted the Templars banned throughout Europe, the King of Portugal negotiated to transfer the possessions and personnel of the Order in Portugal to a newly created Order of Christ. In the 15th century by a compromise agreement the position of (cleric) Grand Master of the Order was nominated by the Pope, and the (lay) Master or Governor by the King.

Henry the Navigator (one of the most important people in Portuguese history) was made the Governor and he used the resources and knowledge of the Order to succeed in his enterprises in Africa and in the Atlantic. The cross of the Order of Christ was painted in the sails of the ships that crossed the seas and the Catholic missions in the new lands were under the authority of the Tomar clerics until 1514.

IMG_7941Fountain at Convento de Cristo Tomar

The Convento was a wonderful place to visit, so much better than the Palace at Sintra and at only two-thirds the price so much better value.  We spotted a coach tour party arriving so we started with the visit before we were overrun with tourist invaders.

And what a tour it was, through courtyards and grand rooms, all empty of course and I prefer it that way to places that are stuffed full of furniture and decorations.  Personally I prefer to see a place stripped bare rather than full of old tat.

Through corridors and chapels, great halls and kitchens, dormitories and medieval offices it was all completely wonderful, I could easily have gone through the place for a second time but I knew Kim wouldn’t like that so we left the Convento and made our way to the castle and climbed the walls and made a circuit of the complete site before returning to ground level and after a surprising three hours leaving again and making our way back down to the main square stopping on the way in a café for a drink.

convento de cristo 03

Here I reflected on the visit and I realise that it is easy to get carried away by the moment but I compared it to a visit to the Alhambra Palace in Granada a year ago and I concluded that this place was better.  If someone told me that I could visit only one of them ever again then I would choose the Convento de Cristo.

Eventually we arrived back in Praça da República and stopped for another beer.  We liked it, the weather was perfect and we were seamlessly adjusted to life outside of Lisbon, it had been a very good few days.  When we first arrived I worried about filling three days in Tomar but right now it really wouldn’t have bothered me if the trains went on strike and I had to stop for a fourth.

If you are planning a visit to central Portugal then you simply must stop over in Tomar.

As it happened I was becoming an expert now and I was confident in giving directions to Caminho Way walkers and giving restaurant recommendations to new guests at the Conde de Ferreira Palace. It was rather a shame to be leaving but eventually we left the square while Kim went back to the hotel I walked to the railway station to buy tickets for the next leg of our journey, this time to Coimbra.

Our preferred restaurant was closed tonight so we walked the small town looking for an alternative and eventually settled upon another local sort of place which was nowhere near as good but we enjoyed a good meal at a reasonable price before one last walk through Tomar and back to the hotel for suitcase packing.

Conde de Ferreira Palace Tomar

A Mystery Story for Halloween – The Single Footprint

Just over forty-five  years ago when I was about fifteen I bought a fascinating book called ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’.

The book was an almanac of random stories with tales of the supernatural, mythical beasts, feats of improbable strength, a glimpse into the future and was divided into chapters such as “Strange customs and superstitions”, “Hoaxes, frauds and forgeries” and “Eccentrics and prophecies.”  There were actual photographs of the Loch Ness Monster, Sri Lankan fire walkers and “O-Kee-Pa, the Torture Test,” where young men of the Mandan tribe of Indians endured a brutal and horrific rite of passage that culminated in chopping off their own little fingers.

I learned that people sometimes spontaneously combust, and that an Italian monk named Padre Pio suffered Christ like wounds in his hands called stigmata that never healed.  There were weird facts such as pigs being flogged in medieval France for breaking the law, and that the entire crew of the Mary Celeste disappeared one day, leaving the ship to float empty around the Atlantic. I became acquainted with Anastasia, the supposed Romanov survivor; and Spring-Heeled Jack, a demon who leapt about London in the nineteenth century, spitting blue flames in the faces of young women.

Ouija Board

I acquired this book during my Ouija board occult dabbling days and the chapter on the supernatural I read over and over again. I was interested in the paranormal and here now was a book bearing evidence that ghosts were real and to prove it there were photographs of writings they’d scrawled on walls.  You can’t dispute evidence like that.  There was an article on the most haunted house in England and in another a photograph even showed how some ghosts could actually present their reflection on tiled kitchen floors.

One night together with some friends we held a séance and got to speak to the spirit of Donald Campbell!

I used to love this book, much to the despair of my dad who considered it to be a collection of useless false drivel that was distracting me from studying for my ‘o’ levels and he was right of course because I should have been concentrating on Shakespeare and Chaucer but for some reason Henry V and the Canterbury Tales were just not as interesting as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’!

I mention all of this because just last week I was on the island of Malta and came across a mystery of my own which would be worthy of inclusion in the ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’.

Have you ever noticed that wherever there is freshly laid concrete someone manages to walk in it?  I have always considered that to be rather stupid, dogs do it but they are extremely stupid of course (when they are not being dangerous) in fact the combined brain cells of all the dogs in the World would still not equal that of the dumbest cat,  but  returning to the wet concrete, I have always wondered why people do it?

Anyway, I was rather perplexed by this bizarre example that I came across in Malta just recently.  Here is a slab of concrete measuring roughly six foot by three and right in the middle of it is a single footprint.  Nothing before and nothing after and nothing to either side and almost impossible to leap into the middle and back out again without losing balance unless you are a World Champion Hopper, surely a curious mystery equally as mystifying as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’! 

Is this perhaps the mystery of the Night the Devil walked in Malta but only managed one single footprint?  Who or what I wonder passed this way?

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