When it comes to hiring a car if I get involved nothing is ever straightforward.
Even if I haven’t been involved in the hiring arrangement in the first place.
And after getting dragged in and some inevitable faffing about at the car hire desk regarding levels of risk and insurance and some misunderstanding we eventually gave in, paid up and took the motorway north out the city towards our first destination, the town of Obidos.
We had decided that this time we would avoid hotels and book apartment accommodation instead mostly on the basis that they are cheaper (always an important consideration in my book) and we were delighted with our first selection which was a three bedroom family house about half a mile from the centre with a sunny garden terrace and a very fine view towards the town.
After settling in, choosing rooms and approving the accommodation we took the short walk into the town. My research had let me down here because I had no idea that it was such a popular tourist destination and we passed through a car park packed with expectant coaches waiting for day trippers to return from a whistle stop drop to be taken on to the next tourist destination.
Once inside the city walls we immediately understood why. It turns out that at almost one mile long it is one of the longest complete walled towns of medieval Europe and on a list that includes Carcassonne in France, Dubrovnik in Croatia, Avila, Toledo and Segovia in Spain and Valletta in Malta.
Simply stunning, a long sinuous wall of solid stone, crenellations, battlements and punctuated at regular intervals by watchtowers and sentry posts and in the centre a magnificent castle, magnificent even if today it is a luxury hotel complex.
Tourist shops of course anticipating an impulse purchase…
Narrow confusing cobbled lanes that sometimes led to nowhere and at other times back to the exact place where we had started out. Flower bedecked whitewashed houses decorated with washing lines strung out like bunting as though in anticipation of a carnival. Multi-coloured shutters thrown open like the wings of a butterfly, Houses all painted white to remain cool, blue and yellow to deter insects, or so it is said.
I have heard this before, someone told me this in 1997 on a visit to the Algarve but I am unable to confirm whether or not it is true.
And a perfect uninterrupted rooftop vista. It took me a while to understand why and then it struck me, no air conditioning units, no satellite dishes and no tv ariels. I came to the conclusion that there must be regulations about this sort of thing in Obidos. I came across it once before in the north of Portugal in the city of Guimarães.
It seemed like a good idea to climb to the top of the wall until we got to the top of the wall.
Forty feet high or so and barely a three foot wide path around the battlements with nothing to stop an unfortunate slip and fall. The Castle is a disaster waiting to happen, with uneven surfaces, irregular steps and almost completely without handrails or safety barriers to prevent visitors accidentally slipping off of the high battlements and becoming a permanent addition to the rocky foundations.
To be fair however they do have warning signs at regular intervals together with a long list of disclaimers.
I am not very good with heights. It is called acrophobia. I can’t explain it. I don’t know when it started. It just did. My intestines churn and drop to the pit of my stomach, my head spins with vertigo, I have an urgent need to cling on to anything that might prevent me from falling to certain death including people. Even complete strangers. It is the same feeling that I get whenever a dog comes anywhere near me (I have told you about that before I think), the fear of pension fund collapse, another five years of Gory Tory government and my grandchildren’s future in uncertain times.
I have to confess that I was so glad to get down off that wall, find a bar and take a beer to settle my shredded nerves. Then I had a second. If I had had a third I might have been persuaded to go back up. But maybe not.
As we walked out of the town back to our town house accommodation everything was rapidly changing. The tour buses had gone, the crowds had disappeared and there was a transformation from tourist town to simple Portuguese. The shops became less frantic, the restaurants began to prepare for evening dining and the shadows deepened in the narrow lanes. It was all so much more agreeable.
On the edge of town we chanced upon an effervescent little bar/restaurant which was flowing over with local people so taking that as a good recommendation we made our way inside, secured a table and enjoyed an excellent but rustic evening meal.