Day 5 -Batalha Monastery, Cuevas da Gruta and Tomar

Day 5 -Batalha Monastery, Cuevas da Gruta and Tomar

We had a little continental style breakfast at our little hotel and hit the road towards Batalha Monastery. I debated whether or not it was worth the trek north to visit… but it totally was. This church was built by King João I as a way to commemorate a great victory for Portugal in 1385. One of the greatest battles Portugal won in history was the Battle of Aljubarrota where a smaller army of soldiers on foot, led by a man named Nuno Álvares Perez, defeated a larger Castilian calvary army. It was an unprecedented victory in its time and this victory cemented Portugal’s independence and made João I the king. It was his lineage of royalty that would be responsible for Portugal’s age of discovery and European economic domination.

Two hundred years was spent constructing various parts of this monastery and chapel. The entrance doorway to the chapel is out of this world. Seriously. There is so much detail you can’t possibly take it all in. There are carvings of all 12 apostles but then various other figures all over the archway.

The main chapel was a little bare on the inside, but that made the stained glass reflect wonderfully on the stone.

Adjacent to the church was the Capela do Fundador where the bodies of King João I, his wife Queen Phillipa of Lancaster and their children and heirs, including Prince Henry the Navigator..who can be credited with actually beginning to explore and conquer land for Portugal. In the early 1420s he convinced his King father to conquer Cuenca across the strait of Gibraltar in Morocco to drive out Barbary pirates that used to raid Portugal’s coast… he drove the design of a lighter, faster ship to outrun pirate and Moorish ships and these ships could sail “into the wind”…making them independent of the wind direction. All of his maritime advances paved the way for the explorers that would follow after him to lead Portugal.

They had the actual original sword from the 1300s of João I….I thought that was REALLY cool. Not a reproduction….the actual sword carried by a King. Total nerdy history moment.

The coolest feature of this place though was the “Imperfect Chapels”… an area that was added in the late 1400s and has no roof! but the intricate stonework on all of the little coves was unbelievable.

Back to the car, we drove to the Cuevas da Gruta – a local underground limestone cave that gave tours. We arrived 2 minutes after another group started so they took us on in to meet up with that tour just starting. She was giving the tour in Portuguese, but she spoke perfect English, so she started to give us an explanation of what caves are made of… and not to be a jerk, but more to save her time, I said “yeah, he’s a geologist.” the WHOLE group busted out laughing. hahaha apparently “geologist” is pretty close in Portuguese too. haha The tour guide said “well, i am NOT… I am only trained in tourism, so if I misspeak, you correct me.” hahaha (which is a good time to mention that apparently in Portugal they go to university and study tourism…they have to take tests on Spanish and English and get scored. Our waiter tonight told us, “oh, well lucky for you- I am 20/20 on English” and gave me a fist bump. haha

Kegan was quite impressed by how many formations could be found in just this one tiny cave. I’ll spare you ALL the details I was subjected to… but here are a few highlights:

“Bacon formations” sheets of thin calcite flowstone that looks like curtains or strips of bacon.
Dried water pool where crystals formed inside
Micritic Limestone- limestone that sheers and breaks like glass with conchoidal fracturing

Overall it was a very cool cave and i’m glad we went! They even had cool rock samples in the ticket center… including this dinosaur egg…or muffin as Norah called it.

Our next town was Tomar. The home of the Knights Templar for over 700 years. The Knights Templar helped conquer Portugal for the Christians in the 1100s from the Arabs and set up a castle in Tomar as their base .They would become a very powerful and rich group for about 200 years…that is until the 1300s… You see, there was this French King, Philip the IV…or Philip the Fair… he liked messing with England and other places that didn’t belong to him… and he needed money to do it. The Knights were known for making loans and handling banking around this time. The French king found himself quite in debt to the Knights. So… naturally… now was a good time to decide that the Knights were heretics… and he convinced the Pope at the time that they needed to be disbanded. His reasoning was basically to point out to the pope that the Knights weren’t answering to the Catholic church anymore… and they weren’t answering to any one King anymore… they were basically operating their own country…. and we know that historically, the Catholic church and Kings could never tolerate anything more powerful than themselves… so it was decided that the Order of the Knights Templar would be dissolved and all their lands and moneys absorbed by the Catholic church. How convenient!

The only exception was in Portugal… King Dinis, at the time, knew it was BS… so secretly, he formed a new order- the Order of Christ and funded and sent the Knights Templar, err… Order of the Christ Knights… to fight more Muslims elsewhere for a time. He also relocated them away from Tomar… to another town to conceal what he was doing. Meanwhile, all of the leaders of the Knights were burned at the stake back in France. There is a theory that the grand leader of the Knights cursed the king and pope as he died… and within a year both King Philip IV and the Pope were dead as well.

It was actually Prince Henry the Navigator that I talked about above that brought the Order of Christ Knights back to Tomar 100 years after the dissolution of the Knights Templar. He even created living quarters for himself and his wife here…I mean, I’d trust an order of knights to protect me more than most….

I was very surprised at the detail and number of paintings inside the main cathedral here.

After walking the grounds at the castle of Tomar, we were headed out of town and saw a sign for an aqueduct. Glad we did a little detour. It was amazing!

We next drove an hour or two up to the Roman ruins of Conimbriga.

Ever wonder how they made round brick columns? I always wondered that until today….

The used triangular bricks! duh…. think outside the box, Erin. ha

I bought the missing fish. It looks just like the green one in the middle.

Our last stop for the day before we headed to Agueda for our hotel was the famous windmills.. or Moinhos.

This is how Portuguese people would have traditionally ground their corn and flour…unless they lived along a river, then maybe water powered mills…but in most places, a good breeze could be counted on. These particular windmills appear to be in the process of being converted to hotel rooms…it looks like they got about 50% through the project and ran out of money. No one was up there at all…. it was a great vantage point over the area.

We drove on to Agueda and parked. Asked the hotel clerk what her favorite restaurant in town was and she said O Tipico.. which coincidentally is the same one I had marked on our plans….so it was decided.

We were first brought bread with fresh cheese and sheep’s cheese.

Tonight, after having octopus envy of Kegan’s meal… I decided to get the grilled octopus.

Kegan has a rule that if the restaurant offers rabbit, he orders it… so that’s what he had.

When we were done, the waiter took Norah to the back to pick out her own ice cream dessert. It made her night.

We weren’t really hungry or going to order dessert, but the waiter told us that the lady owner who was running around hand makes the desserts for hours every day….so really we couldn’t turn it down. We let him make the recommendation to us. We ended up a “sky cream” as he called it. Sky=heaven I believe… and it was heaven. light cream with some ground up graham cracker powder (best i can explain) with a sweet egg yolk sauce.

Kegan got the condensed milk pudding….which is basically Portugues firm flan… and it was stellar, too. So we did not leave disappointed.

Our hotel’s wifi was broken (my biggest pet peeve), hence the delay in posting Day 4… and this Day 5 🙂

Tomorrow is just a day of meandering through the national park to the highest point in Portugal and ending at a winery. I hope to have some exciting photos but likely just a lot of landscapes 🙂

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