Our first stop today was Batalha, famous for its Monastery of Santa Maria, considered Portugal’s finest architectural achievement. King João the First had the monastery built to give thanks after his small Portuguese army defeated the large Spanish army, maintaining Portuguese independence. This is the burial place of King João and his English wife, Queen Philippa, the parents of Portugal’s beloved Prince Henry the Navigator. The monastery house the Portuguese Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where we saw the changing of the guard.
Our second stop of the day was Fátima. I had known about Fátima since I was a child, but there was a lot I didn’t know. The town is named for a daughter of the prophet Muhammad. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to three shepherd children there. A hundred years ago, Europe was engulfed in WW I. Mary appeared to the children six times, telling them that peace was coming.
The town has a basilica that was completed in 1953 and a church finished in 2007. Between them there is a huge assembly ground where pilgrims pray at outdoor masses. I didn’t expect a sacred site such as this, one of Europe’s three most visited pilgrimage sites, to be so contemporary. I also didn’t expect the religious area to be surrounded by hotels, fast food shops selling fries and ice cream, dozens of shops selling trinkets, and hundreds of tour buses. We were fortunate to find a restaurant away from the crowds. Nick and I shared a mushroom omelette and a tuna salad.
Then we were back on the bus, heading for the college town of Coimbra. Our guide, Cristina, who added a touch of dry wit to her descriptions, walked us through the university, which was founded in 1139. One of my favorite sights of the trip was the school’s library. A million volumes were beautifully displayed, some dating back several centuries, and I imagined students doing research through the years. This library was copied for scenes in the 2017 movie Beauty and the Beast.
At dinner, we sat with Tanis and Alan, and the four of us discussed our previous tours and travels. After a green salad topped with cheese and a prosciutto-like ham, Nick enjoyed sea bass, while my main course was crispy roast pork. Our dessert was fruit salad.
13, 176 steps.