The flight to Lisbon, Portugal at 7 PM was three hours from Rome. We boarded the airline TAP. Once inside the aircraft, I was surprised that all of us were seated at the rear of the airplane (except for a few ones who checked in late and were seated in the front rows).
The four of us were at the last aisle and it was still fine for me because we were near the lavatories. I slept through the flight. I first thought it was only two hours long but it turned out that it was actually three flying hours. The two hours was only because of the time difference, Portugal being one hour delayed than Rome. I woke up when the stewardess was serving dinner (it was still sandwich, but better because it was served hot).
When the plane landed at around nine, it was windy and was raining hard in Lisbon. The flight was smooth so it did not make sense that it felt like there was signal number 2 in Lisbon (in Philippine standards). I was even joking that the storm that was currently staying in the Philippines (after Ondoy and Peping) found its way to us.
We waited for a few minutes in the arrival area and settled in the seats as Ms. Rose looked for our guide. Ms. Rose came back with two guys following her. The men were our bus drivers from Lisbon to Fatima. Both drivers, who spoke fluent English (halleluia!) told us they cannot bring the bus up front because it was not allowed. We were told to walk a few meters to the parking area. This was also the same in Rome but it was not a problem there because the weather cooperated when we arrived. Standing there, with our luggage and the current weather, it was definitely not feasible. Ms. Rose pleaded with both drivers to reconsider. If we were in Rome, Alessandro would have outright said it was not possible, but this time, drivers helpfully told Ms. Rose to go and ask the person in charge. Several minutes later, Ms. Rose told us to wait at the pick up station in front of the arrival area because the “Senyor” allowed us. This made my first impression of Portugal good – with English speaking people (like the Philippines) and warm and helpful people (so different from Rome).
The first group boarded their bus while we lingered near the arrival area. When it was our turn, my luggage was carried by the driver and he placed it in the bus compartment in the driver’s side. I wanted to make sure my luggage was indeed loaded so I took out my new folding umbrella from my carry on and opened it. My gosh, the minute I opened my umbrella, the wind blew it off, it flipped over while I ran to the other baggage compartment. I still got wet from the heavy rain because my umbrella failed. When I settled in the bus, I discovered my umbrella was totally broken and beyond repair. The wind broke the switch. Whew, so much for made in the Philippines, hehehe.
Our destination in Portugal is Fatima, a world famous pilgrimage site, which is an hour’s drive from Lisbon. Our driver turned off the lights and all of us continued to doze off.
It was already ten in the evening when we stopped at our hotel in Fatima. We waited in the lobby while the drivers and the porters unloaded the luggage. Ms. Rose distributed our room cards and instructed us that we can go up and proceed to our rooms because the porters will just deliver the luggage later. She said our wake up call was seven in the morning, breakfast at eight and by nine, our guided tour of Fatima will begin. Mother, sister, H and I were already dead beat and we wanted to hit the bed immediately. Because of this, we opted to carry our luggage ourselves because we did not want to wait until they were delivered before we could change and wash up.
The hallway of the hotel to our room was dark and it was kinda creepy. As we walked along the halls, the lights flickered on and off. They were energy saving censored bulbs which switch on and off based on movements in the immediate area. If I were alone there, I would have sped off; my mind was picturing a scary scenario, hahaha.
Inside our room, H and I ransacked our bag for instant noodles. I did not know I was missing food from home very much until I ate like a dog and ravaged it. Instant noodles never tasted that good.
Breakfast the next day was delicious! It was still continental and the usual assorted breads and cold cuts and cereals – but, but, there were scrambled eggs!!! Everyone flocked where the scrambled eggs were and it was quickly gone with everyone taking large servings. The latecomers could not find any, but hey, this was Portugal where people were generally accommodating and willing to help, the hotel immediately provided another fresh tray of scrambled eggs. Some of us went back for second servings, not counting the hording earlier on. During breakfast, we kidded the head waiter what was for lunch. He was happy to announce a carnivorous recipe as main course and potatoes. We tried our luck and pleaded if it were possible for rice and fish…? He said no problem! I love Portugal. I’m giving it five stars, promise!
The Fatima Square was only a ten-minute walk from our hotel. The area surrounding the square was lined up with hotels because pilgrims flock to Fatima to visit the Fatima Square. We walked leisurely with our guide as she told us about Fatima. The square was the exact site where the three children of Fatima were playing while minding the sheep when Our Lady appeared to them. I thought the three children saw, heard and conversed with Our Lady, but as our guide told us, while Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco were able to see Our Lady, only Lucia and Jacinta can hear her and between the two girls, it was only Lucia who can converse with her.
At the entrance of the square nearest our hotel, a piece of the Berlin wall was erected. I’m not so familiar with the story behind it and why it was in Portugal. My sister and I were busily taking photos that we could not hear the guide (there were no headsets this time : ( ).
The Fatima Colossal Square was large. Up front is the Basilica, where the tombs of Blessed Francisco, Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Lucia are found at the sides of the altar. At one corner of the square is the Apparition Chapel, or the exact site where Our Lady of Fatima appeared to the three children. Near the Apparition Chapel, you can see a big oak tree – where the children were playing when they the first apparition happened. Later, it was beside that tree that they waited for the several apparitions which followed. In the middle of the square is a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus where there was a fountain and where many pilgrims wash and drink. Opposite the Basilica is another new church (I forgot the name) – it’s bigger than the basilica and below the main church are several chapels where pilgrims can use and hold masses. In between the vast grounds of the Basilica and the new church, a pathway from the new church towards the basilica is laid down. Many pilgrims pray the rosary on their knees starting from the new church all the way to the basilica – yes, I bet it would be a torture to walk on knees but here’s the catch: there were knee pads sold in the neighboring stores in Fatima, hahaha.
Our guide first led us to the new church. Whoa, it was so big and has 7,000 sitting capacity. After spending several minutes there, we walked towards the basilica up front. The design of the basilica was inspired from the design of St. Peter’s Square – a portion of it looked like St. Peter’s Square but smaller in size. It wasn’t also that big inside – or maybe because it was not as large as the churches in Italy that it looked small to me. The design inside was not that elaborate as well – but it was equally elegant. At the wall of the altar is a huge dark painting of a lady. I did not like the painting, the lady there had white (not merely blond) hair and she looks like a “wakwak” hahaha. I even asked my sister about it and she said she did not also understand the painting – this is exactly what we got from not staying up close our guide when she was explaining things.
After our visit to the basilica, we proceeded to the Apparition Chapel. There was a mass when we arrived there. Since we were having our own mass later that afternoon, us pilgrims just wandered in the surroundings. The fountain was near the chapel, so we grabbed the chance to wash our faces and drink the water instead. The water, though icy cold, was refreshing.
Our guide told us we had the rest of the afternoon off for our own sightseeing. She told us there was a wax museum within the square too, then gave us pamphlets of Fatima Square. Shortly, she bid us goodbye.
We roamed around the square, intending to look at the wax museum but someone from our group said viewing hours were done for the morning. Since we had time in the afternoon, we planned to go back later. It was almost eleven o’clock. We walked to the direction of the hotel, and stopped by some shops along the way. There were a lot of leather bags on sale in the store near our hotel. I wanted to buy several but since they were made in Spain and in France, I figured I’d buy them in Spain…or in France because they should be cheaper (wrong, totally wrong move!).
Our hotel scheduled our lunch at 11:45 but we were already there, waiting at 11:30. Excited – it was our first hot lunch since we arrived, and they said there was going to be rice! We munched the bread on our tables while anticipating our food. Seeing that almost all of the seats were full and everybody was ready, the waiters started serving several minutes before its schedule. Soup was served first…and when the rice came next, I lost it. I ate it all, without even waiting for the main course – it was fried rice with egg, yummy!
After our delicious lunch, we went up our rooms and said we’d rest for an hour then proceed with the tour around Fatima. H and I were ready by 1:30 but when I called my sister, they were still sleepy and begged off for 2:00pm. H dozed off while I just closed my eyes to rest. By two o’clock, it was my sister who called to meet downstairs. I nudged H to wake him up, but he was in deep sleep, I did not want to disturb him. I nudged him again and asked him if he still wants to go or if he prefers to just rest. He said he was still sleepy and told me to go without him.
We walked to the train station which was just outside the entrance of the Fatima Square. For two Euros, we can board any train to any five destinations around Fatima. It was just a very small train. We hopped on and decided that our first stop will be the house of Sister Lucia.
The ride to Sister Lucia’s house was a good twenty minutes. Traveling into the center of Fatima, I saw that it was a very sleepy town. Sure, there were a lot of establishments and residential houses but I don’t see any people out. There were parked cars, but I don’t see any of the locals anywhere. I bet they were still having siesta.
We got off the house of Sister Lucia. The houses in the area were ancient. A lot of tourists hovered there. At the side entrance of the house, a nun was seated and she talked to the guests. She is a niece of Sister Lucia. We stepped inside the house. The rooms were small and the beds, smaller. We examined the kitchen which, surprisingly, was a little spacious than all of the rooms in the house. After taking a few pictures inside, we headed out.
There were directions and arrows along the street signs in the area pointing to the house of Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco, so we opted to just walk and enjoy a nice, cool afternoon in that very silent and peaceful place. My sister and I argued which way to go, but she insisted we go forward and mother and I just followed her to shut her mouth. After several minutes, the neighborhood had slowly turned into modern houses and at that, I convinced her it was the wrong way. Seeing I was right, we went back our tracks.
The walk to the house of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta took longer because we stopped over the many small shops along the way. When we finally got there, an elderly gentleman was sitting inside the house. He is the son of the brother of Francisco and Lucia. The house was a lot similar to the house of Sister Lucia, made of stone with low ceiling, although the room where Francisco stayed when he died was a teeny bit larger in size than the usual areas. This had a lot of room in the backyard too. We lingered there longer to rest and took wacky pictures.
From there, we walked some more in the neighborhood because there were never ending shops in the sidewalks. My mother continued buying religious items because some items she bought from Italy were cheaper in Fatima. After a while, I already suggested we transfer to another sight in Fatima, so we walked to the train stop. When we boarded, we did not really have any particular itinerary but when the train made a stop in the Fatima Parish Church, we got off together with our pilgrim-ates.
Fatima Parish Church was just small and simple. Although it was not bare like ours here are, the church did not also have the luxurious ornaments like the ones in Italy had. The three children of Fatima were baptized in this church and at the far end left thereof, there was a small area devoted to the baptism rites of the three children, one which included a copy of the entries in the baptismal register with their names on it.
After praying, we went out to explore the surroundings, while we waited for the train. We were the only ones lurking the streets that time. At several minutes after four, the streets were practically empty. I was really wondering where was everybody in this place. Except for the ones who tended their shops, I didn’t see any other locals around. It was already over fifteen minutes and still no train. I was repeatedly looking at my watch because aside from the fact that we had a mass to catch at five, all trains are only up to five also. The sun was still high at that time and we hid behind the trees to avoid it. I went out and bathe in the sun from time to time because it was also cold and I want the sun’s rays for heat, then I go and hide in the shades again because the sun might burn my skin. I don’t know, it was confusing.
When the train arrived, we found ourselves seated with the group of Ms. Boots Anson Roa and her sister and the rest of their companions. My sister and I sat across her and her sister and mother sat beside her. We engaged in small talk. Ms. Boots asked if we knew some Roas in Butuan and I was quick to say I don’t while my sister elaborated on Roa Wood and that she had a friend whose surname was Roa. I joined in saying I think I have a batchmate who was a “Roa”. The drive took several minutes and Ms. Boots continued to converse with us as if we were long time friends. She talked about her late husband and her children and how it was so great that we were mother and daughters in the trip. She said she just went on a recent Alaskan cruise trip with her children too. Listening to her stories, I saw her as down to earth, humble, soft-spoken and kind. We did not feel any “star complex” on her.
Ms. Boots and her party took off in the shopping center of Fatima where the malls were. It was almost five in the afternoon, and we did not know how to get back to the hotel when the trains stop running by five, so we stayed behind and told Ms. Boots we will alight on the next stop. Thus, on the next stop, we got off because my sister said it was already Fatima Square. Well, she was right, Fatima Square was already visible but it was the wrong stop. Fatima Square was vast and it was just one of its many entrances. Anyway, we laughed as we walked because all of our companions in the train followed us thinking my sister knew the way.
Inside Fatima Square, we saw several persons kneeling their way through the square and praying the rosary. My sister said we should try it too, but I declined. I told her my knees had not recovered from the Holy Steps which I climbed on my knees in Rome. I told her she better do it alone but she didn’t. We proceeded to one of the chapels beneath the new church for our mass. I called hubby to just meet us there.
After hearing mass, we had dinner at the restaurant in the hotel. There was still rice but the treat for the evening was the steamed pink salmon which was our main course. D-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. That day was also the 25th anniversary of a couple we were traveling with. Ms. Boots called them in front for a few words. When dinner was almost over, Father Arlo took the microphone and suggested we formally introduce each other since we never got the time to do that in Italy. What started out as merely introducing each other unexpectedly became an open forum on some issues that members of the first group had with each other. I was just shocked while munching on dessert when they started openly talking forcefully against each other and were somewhat arguing. Us from the other group were so clueless they had those issues because in ours, we got along fine.
The open forum was cut short when Fr. Arlo halted it saying that the night procession at the Fatima Square was starting in a few minutes. It looked like they patched things up when they apologized and hugged but for me, it didn’t look well. It would have been better if those things were left unsaid, or even kept within them. I was right because for the rest of the trip, I could see a strain in their relationship.
It was so cold that night and I did not understand my body already. I felt like a tonsilitis was coming up or a fever, and I was afraid I might feel worse if I go out in the cold and join the procession that I begged off and took a much needed rest.
The next day, the first group headed to Lisbon immediately after breakfast because they were flying the 2PM flight to Barcelona. We had the whole morning to ourselves as our flight was still at 5:30pm. We spent the day across Fatima, mainly in the shopping malls. The malls only sold winter apparel and except for scarves and bonnets, we could not buy anything which we could use back home.
Since we had time, we lazily walked across town. There were still very few people around though. This may be a regular reaction coming from one who’s accustomed to seeing people everywhere at home – laughing kids, barking dogs, honking cars. In Fatima, it was quiet and still. Fatima was just a modest town, but I could not believe seeing Mercedes Benz cars as taxis.
We got back to the hotel for lunch and by 1:30 in the afternoon, we boarded our bus and headed back to Lisbon for our flight.
Driving to Lisbon during the day got us the chance to see Portugal. It was clean, it was unpopulated, it was green.
One hour after, our driver dropped us in the airport for our flight to Barcelona, Spain.
I really enjoyed our stay in Portugal. Our time in Italy was frantic, but here, it was unhurried and calm. I loved its peacefulness and serenity. Most of all, I loved its hospitable people and I loved the food – it reminded me of home.