Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fatima, Nazare And Obidos

This morning my parents’ tour group traveled to Fatima in order to visit The Basilica And Shrine Of Our Lady Of Fatima.

The Basilica And Shrine Of Our Lady Of Fatima was erected on the site upon which The Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children on six occasions between May and October 1917. It is one of the world’s most sacred spots, and one of the most-visited places of pilgrimage anywhere. My family is not Roman Catholic, and yet my parents found visiting The Basilica And Shrine to be among the most deeply-moving experiences of their lives.

The 1917 events at Fatima are inexplicable, and not amenable to scientific explanation.

For me, the most chilling aspect of the events is that The Virgin Mary, on her second visit, foretold the deaths of two of the children, including even the hour and cause of death. Because the shepherd children immediately told their parents what they had learned from The Virgin Mary—as well as schoolteachers, priests, government officials and even journalists—this information was all documented long in advance of their actual deaths.

For The Virgin Mary’s sixth and final appearance to the three shepherd children, at least 70,000 persons witnessed The Solar Miracle Of Fatima that attended The Apparition Of The Virgin. It was perhaps the most miraculous event of the 20th Century, witnessed by persons forty miles from Fatima.

The square in front of The Basilica And Shrine Of Our Lady Of Fatima is larger than the square in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. On significant Holy Days, the entire square at Fatima is filled with pilgrims.

The interior of the structure is very restrained. It lends itself to contemplation and solace. Fatima is a place in which visitors find peace.

The nave is known as The Basilica Of The Rosary.

My parents toured The Basilica And Shrine for two hours. It was a wondrous experience. They said that Fatima has been the highlight of their trip thus far.

Fatima attracts large numbers of visitors from all over the world, especially in the summer months, but this morning’s crowd was not large. It will be another month or so before the daily number of visitors swells to peak-season levels.

From Fatima, the tour group proceeded to Nazare, an ancient fishing village on the Atlantic Ocean.

Hoards of persons visit Nazare each year—it is by far Portugal’s most famous and most popular fishing village—but my parents were unable to ascertain the source of Nazare’s attraction. To them, Nazare simply looked like any other Portuguese coastal town.

Fishermen in Nazare still dry their catch in the sun, and they use special drying nets for this purpose. Drying nets lined the beach at Nazare, monitored by old women.

My parents walked the beach, and explored the core of the old town, filled with small shops and seafood restaurants.

My parents had lunch at a seafood restaurant. After lunch, they walked through a residential area adjacent to the town center. They said it looked exactly like any other residential area to be seen in small towns throughout Spain and Italy.

My parents did not take the funicular up to Sitio and observe Nazare from above—they preferred instead to spend the allotted time in Nazare walking the beach and enjoying a fresh seafood lunch.

From Nazare, the tour group proceeded to Obidos, one of Portugal’s most enchanting towns.

Obidos is a medieval town still surrounded by high stone ramparts to protect the town from invaders. There is a large and impressive castle—now a hotel—and many interesting historic churches. The town has always been preserved in its medieval state because, for centuries, the town was the property of The Queen Of Portugal and, as such, was protected from development. My father said that the town reminded him of a miniature version of Spain’s Toledo.

It takes a full day to see everything in Obidos, but my parents had only two hours at their disposal—one of the tiresome disadvantages of a guided tour—and they used the time to walk through as many of the ancient streets as possible. Given the time constraints, they did not attempt even to visit any of the historic churches—they simply wanted to cover as much ground as possible.

Spring flowers were blooming in Obidos, and my mother said that she had never seen so many geraniums in her life. Geraniums were everywhere—in flowerboxes, on lawns, in gardens, in pots—and the geraniums added to the beauty of the ancient buildings and streets.

My parents said that they wished the time spent in Nazare had been devoted to Obidos instead.

On a particularly lovely street, my parents came upon a delightful café with a delightful view. My parents went inside and ordered coffee and pastry.

While my parents were in the café, the café proprietor gave my father a small sample of Ginginha, a sweet brandy liqueur made from local cherries. The proprietor told my father that, if my father liked the liqueur, the proprietor could recommend a shop that sold the finest Ginginha in Portugal and that the shop would gladly ship product to the States. He said that his brother owned the shop in question, and he told my father that his brother’s shop was a very reputable establishment and that the shop took Diner’s Club and that liqueur prices were fixed and government-imposed, and posted in the shop, and that the lowest per-liter price was by the case.

The café proprietor gave my father his brother’s business card, and he drew a simple map to the liqueur shop, which was only three blocks from the café.

My father thanked him and, when they were done with their coffee and pastry, my parents walked over to the liqueur shop. As soon as they stepped inside the shop door, my parents identified the proprietor, whom they instantly observed to be a twin of the café proprietor (but not an identical twin).

And, while in the shop, my father indeed ordered a case of Ginginha to be shipped home.

I suspect my father will use the case of Ginginha as a source of gifts.

Obidos was the final excursion of the day for the guided tour.

For the final night in Estoril, most members of the tour group visited the Estoril casino, the largest casino in Europe (and featured in a James Bond film).

My parents had no interest in the casino, so they had dinner in the hotel and turned in early for the night.

Tomorrow my parents will travel to Evora, and from Evora on to The Algarve, where they will spend the next three nights.

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