Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Children of the Corn Meets the Shining

Well, we made it to Fatima. The bus ride was very pleasant; about an hour and a half through rolling pastures and vineyards. That ends the pleasant part of the day.
We checked into our hotel, which was basic, as we expected (there are not any charming accommodations in Fatima). Our hotel is very 1970s, but very clean and walking distance to everything we wanted to see. The only thing is, what we wanted to see was a bit of a disappointment.
Fatima signs
The story about Fatima is that 1917 three little kids saw the virgin Mary in a tree and over time the spot has become one of the most important holy sights for Catholics. There is a large and lovely, albeit rather sterile church, overlooking an immense square where crowds gather for festivals and Pope sightings. Some people, apparently so overcome with religious devotion (i.e. insanity) approach the church on their knees from hundreds of feet away. It is interesting, but not really moving, as i have found other religious sites to be. We saw three women on their knees, making their way awkwardly towards the church. It just looked silly.
Fatima: square outside church
The square outside the church is just a concrete expanse that looked more like a skateboard park than a shrine. The only thing that i enjoyed was the opportunity to buy large candles, wax body parts and wax children and burn them in what we can only assume is some sort of offering to god. (They even had wax breasts!)
Fatima souvenirs
The rest of the town is just a collection of gaudy religious souvenir shops, which we did enjoy, but you can only look at so many 4 foot tall glow-in-the-dark Virgin Marys before it becomes tedious.

There we a few unappealing restaurants and several uninspiring 1960s hotels, but that is about it. The really odd thing is that there were very few people. Outside of the church, the town was somewhat deserted. It was like Children of the Corn.
This sign was in a Catholic Church. Apparently it indicates  Confession, but i see a different meaning
This morning we got up early to catch a bus and when we descended into the hotel lobby, we could find no one. No one at the desk, no one in the restaurant, no one in the halls. We tried to exit, but found much to our horror, that we were locked in!! I was about to climb out a window when the desk clerk found us and set us free.  
Today has been a vast improvement. We are presently in Tomar, a charming Medieval era town on a river about an hour from Fatima. The streets are delightful, there are numerous churches and sites of historical interest. This morning we strolled through an outdoor market, sampling fresh bread, cheese and strawberries. We then visited the Convent of Christ, a 12thC convent & castle on a hill and had lunch off the town square. There are a few more places we plan to check out before catching a bus back to Fatima.
river in Tomar
 Tomorrow we catch a train north to Coimbra. 
view of Tomar

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