This year-holiday’s destination fell on sunny Portugal. Before last month I have never been in this hot and steamy country. I have visited other countries referring to as South-European, naming Spain and Italy, but Portugal never crossed my mind. I do not really know why, I have always considered myself as a Central/Western-Europe person as I have always liked visiting countries such as Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands or even Switzerland – maybe that is the reason. Nevertheless Portugal is beautiful and I tend to catch myself on thinking about it more and more.
As I was staying in the central part of the country, very close to important religious cities, I decided that I should visit them all. After Fatima, Tomar and Batalha, Alcobaça was the closest city I could easily reach by bike. That is what I thought back then. I had no idea how much wrong I was. Along with my boyfriend, we started our journey biking through fields of fruits and vegetables, which was quite nice considering that it was pretty flat out there. But once we crossed the highway, we found ourselves in hell. For next eight kilometers we had to bike up, up and once again up. Once we passed this horrible, nightmarish road, we arrived to Alcobaça from the castle’s side. Castle was rather ruins of a once mighty building but from this point, we could see Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça in all its glory.
Monastery itself has a very interesting history. It is medieval construction founded by the first king of Portugal, Alfonso. It was once one of the most important religious center and it is also one of the first examples of Gothic style buildings in the country. Worth adding, it is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site – so pretty much a “must to see”. Unfortunately I did not enter inside the monastery, where according to tourists guides you can see beautiful cloister of the monastery and gardens.
The day we spent in Alcobaça was marked by two Portuguese things I tried for the first time – bifana and ginjinha. Sandwich with just pork is very popular in Portugal and you can find it almost everywhere. It is so simple and so cheap that I decided to take bifana as my lunch dish. Version I got, was with some vegetables and chips but it was still very good and filling. The later thing I mentioned is Portuguese alcohol, which you can find anywhere. It is sweet with cherry taste. I drunk it in a chocolate cup, which I found so nice and amazing, that I would drink it every day. Also in my humble opinion it fits perfectly after your noon’s coffee.
Ah, coffee, that is something worth mentioning as it is even more popular then bifana and liquor. Coffee is everywhere, coffee is everything. It is good and cheap and it is Portugal. Everyone there drink coffee, everyone takes coffee breaks. I found myself drinking more coffee in Portugal than I usually do in Belgium. It reminded me so much of Italy, where coffee is an important element of culture.
It was Sunday and city was pretty calm. You could see some tourists here and there but despite the beautiful weather, city was not overcrowded. After couple of hours we were set to come back home, embracing the idea of hills and sweat.