Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spain & Portugal - Day 14

Having heard of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima every so often from families and friends who had gone for their pilgrimage, we were finally going there ourselves! No more hearsay....yippy!!

After yesterday's traffic madness, we decided to have a relaxed morning to avoid the morning rush hour. True enough, zipping through Lisboa was a breeze and we almost had the whole A1 highway to ourselves!

Our first stop was to Santarem, the town that houses the Church of the Holy Miracle. It is in this church that the miracle of the bleeding host took place in 1247.

Since then, the bleeding host is being kept in a crystal pyx and placed in a gold-plated silver monstrance. Our excitement to view the bleeding host was soon crushed by a temporary sign placed outside the church that reads "Closed today"! The church is opened everyday EXCEPT today!! It was unbelievable!

Refusing to believe, we practically circled round the church for 10 mins hoping for a miracle before finally accepting the reality that it was not to be. Just before we were about to leave, a mum with her toddler who had been sitting nearby supposedly figured our intention, told us in Portugese that "no viewing of host, but can visit church". At least, we had our consolation prize. On the church walls were paintings depicting the story of the miracle of the bleeding host....

The poor woman with an unfaithful husband receiving the blessed hosts from a priest.

The woman removed the host that she received, wrapped it in her veil, leaving the church. The host started bleeding profusely.

The next morning, the parish priest was informed of the bleeding host that the woman and her husband kept in a wooden box at home. Everyone who heard of the miracle went to contemplate on the miracle.

The Blessed Sacrament was taken in procession to the Church of the Holy Miracle.

Satisfied, we thanked the lady once again and left for Fatima, the other highlight of our journey. As it was off-peak season for tourism and not Marian month (month of Mary), there was abundant parking spaces. We even managed to find free parking just 10 mins of easy walk to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima (built between 1928 to 1953).

Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

The tombs of the three children who saw the apparition was situated at the left and right hall from the altar.

Tomb of Jacinta and Lucia

Tomb of Francisco

At the main square, situated next to the shrine is a chapel where a group of pilgrims were celebrating mass. Our plot of sneaking in to join the mass was unfortunately foiled....mass was in a language we couldn't understand.

On the right of the chapel is a big candle burning area. Faithfuls can buy extra large or fancy candles from the numerous shops surrounding the shrine or like us, buy simple ones of varying size here. We bought some here since it is cheap, convenient and the proceeds goes to the upkeep of the shrine.

The huge square has nothing much except a small well-kept garden and a small museum at the far end. After all, the square is to cater to the overwhelming crowd visiting during the Marian months.

A faithful walking, kneeling and praying starting from the white building (that's where the museum is) to the shrine.

After lunch and some shopping at the many shops selling religious artifacts, we headed off to our next destination, Aljustrel, homes of the 3 children.

Sculpture of the 3 children

Photo of the 3 children
Aljustrel is a sleepy and pretty dry and sandy small town with a couple of shops selling mostly handmade handicrafts at very reasonable prices (or should I say at a fraction of the price in the city?). We were most attracted to the gorgeous looking table cloths and of course we didn't  miss this opportunity to grab some back home. Shopping done, it's time to visit the original homes of Jacinta, Lucia and Franscisco.

First up, home of Lucia.

Main entrance

Kitchen area

Bedroom of Lucia

Place where the family kept their sheep

Home of Franscisco

Bedroom of Franscisco where she died in 1919

After visiting the homes, we continued to the nearby garden for a stroll as we followed the Station of the Cross. Well, since we weren't able to attend any masses, this was kind of pilgrimage for us.

Garden with Stations of the Cross

Since we still had 2 hours left before last light, we made our way to Ourem Castle where the 3 children were jailed for a short period of time when the authorities wanted to force them to reveal the secret of the apparition.

Well, there's nothing much left of the castle. Nevertheless, we don't regret making the trip there. The drive was lovely, passing through a small town and driving up a narrow winding road up to Ourem. And the view was wonderful up there and of course, we enjoyed climbing up and down the castle ruins.

With that, we called it a day.....

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Spain & Portugal - Day 13

Today is an exciting day for us.....we're heading to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.

Since we only have one pit stop planned for the day, we decided to walk around Braga old city before heading out. We didn't take any pictures of Braga old city. Through our short encounter with this city, two things strike out. One, pretty unusual to have 3-4 churches within an old city. That said, it did spoiled our plan of using the highest building....usually the clock tower of the cathedral as landmark to help us head back to our starting point. Second, the city streets circled round similar looking churches like a maze. While we did get lost while walking around, it was still fun.

By noon, its on the road again! First stop, Bom Jesus to visit the Chapel of Miracles (Capela dos Milagres). If you planned on visiting, do be careful. There is a church named Bom Jesus and there's a town named Bom Jesus. They are far apart...maybe an hour drive! As many others, we also mistook the first sign that we saw to refer to Bom Jesus the church. We did sense something was not right but we didn't heed our hunch. Anyway, after wasting some precious time, we finally figured out and get to our intended location,

The most remarkable thing that draws us to The Chapel of Miracles is the life-size figurines depicting the Stations of the Cross as we climbed each level towards the grand stairway that finally leads to the church.

Each level of these path is flanked by life-size figures depicting the Station of the Cross

The fresh air and tranquility of the place made walking a joy and the figurines add "colours" to the otherwise monotonous walk.

Finally, we reached the end of the Stations.....and there presented to us was the grand stairway!

An artistic water fountain that marks the start of the stairway

Close-up of stairway

Half-way climbing the stairway......

Awaiting for us at the top of the stairway is the Chapel of Miracle and a breathtaking view of the Rio Cavado valley.

Chapel of Miracles

View of Rio Cavado valley and the distant mountains

The crisp fresh air, the fantastic view and the quietness was too tempting for us. Before we knew it, we've spent half hour sitting there doing nothing, just enjoying this moment.

With a long drive ahead, we made a quick visit to the church before making our descend.

Interior of Church of Miracles

While we had seen many sculptures of Mary, this one stood out with the artist presenting not the loving side of Mary but the agony that she went through with the crucification of her son.

Another interesting presentation that we had never seen was numerous saints praying for the children of God to Jesus. With so many saints praying, of course we said ours too....a good and safe journey till we get home.

If you are planning on a visit but don't want to make the long walk, no worries, there's a winding road that you can drive to the top......but you will miss a lot of fun walking up.

It was off-work peak hour when we reached Lisbon....the traffic was crazy and the many one-way streets just add to the madness. We saw our hotel, Turim Europa Hotel from the main road....excited....thinking that was easy! But, after circling round the different streets for almost an hour, we still couldn't figured out "THE" road to turn in. Again, our guardian angel sent us a helpful lady who brought us there before heading to her appointment. According to her, it is a very weird turn that most foreigners including some locals had problem finding.

Our trip to Spain & Portugal so far had been filled with many fond memories of good Samaritans who took the trouble to go off their path just to help two strangers. We were more than grateful to them.

By the way, if you intend to stay at Turim Europa, do note that the so-called "free parking" that the hotel said it offers is actually street parking on a first-come-first-serve basis. Parking in the hotel is payable! We were quite upset with the misrepresentation by the hotelier when we booked. Lucky us, we managed to secure the last free parking space just in front of the hotel.

It was 7pm....night is still young.....and we were restless. We decided to try our luck at a recommended cheap and good seafood cafe in Cascais, a coastal town some 36 km from Lisbon. It was supposedly a 40 mins drive using the highway but it was still peak hour and that means massive traffic jams! We finally got the car parked, had a walk around the seafront town and settled for dinner in a restaurant at 9pm! There may not be much left for us to do after dinner, but hey, we still managed to visit a shopping mall and grab some snacks.

On our way back to Lisbon, we had another blessing. Me, the wife who hates keeping coins decided not to spend any that night. What's the big deal? It saved our night! The toll booths which were mended by humans earlier in the day, became a self-service booth. At 12.15 am, having no coins to pay toll and no other cars at sight and risk getting stuck at a foreign highway will be disastrous. So, drivers, remember to keep your change!

The Authors