Saturday, January 15, 2011

to Obidos by trains

Days of intense work are just a hare’s breath away. Now is the time to squeeze all last bits of pleasure out of being in a place that is far from home.

I remember when Ed first joined me on some of my travels, I told him how I had always had a lust for a little summer house far away from home. It had not been in the cards earlier and I was half wondering if I should make it a goal to save for some such tiny piece of heaven. One room. Not more than two. Maybe in Brittany? Or the Languedoc?

Ed, perceptively I think, commented that I was exactly the wrong person to have a place to return to time and again. But maybe I would like it? I asked then. I doubt it, he said. Even the smallest place is an encumbrance. You’re better off spending money on a bed and breakfast. Or carrying a tent.

Our last days in Portugal. I’m thinking that I have this complicated train connection figured out. We set out to visit Obidos.

There are wisps of fog in the hills this morning. I see them from the bedroom window.


And I see them from the train window as well. Ah, windmills. Of today, of yesterday.



We’re on the third train now and we’re feeling pretty smug about it too. The tiny two-car train came (and then departed) earlier than the schedule indicated, but we managed to be there waiting (we did a lot of waiting, with long layovers, just in case) and now we’re heading north, with a local populace that travels this way from the smallest of villages to towns where groceries can be purchased, errands taken care of.

Two hours later, we are in Obidos. Or rather at the foot of the hill, at the summit of which you’ll find the medieval town of Obidos.


It is a walled town – quite a bit larger, but not dissimilar from Monsaraz (the hilltop village we loved so much to the southeast of Evora).

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The walls are in good shape and we take the time to walk the entire perimeter of the town along their stony ledge.



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We have five hours before the wee train will be making its way back (to Mira Sintra Melecas, where we would connect to Cacem and then to Sintra). There are churches to see – beautiful, with Baroque tile coverings...

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Alleys to poke around in...

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...and eventually I suggest a light lunch – at a cafĂ©-restaurant that appears to draw a young and old crowd...



The fog is being pushed back by a warm sun and Ed takes some time to rest on a stone wall and read while I window shop. And shop, actually. There are a few ceramics stores on Obidos and one of them has these:


And one chocolate shop allows you to purchase an Obidos treat – chocolate cups into which the clerk pours a local cherry liquor.


Our train will be passing through just before six. We watch the light fade in the way that it does in hill towns: at first, warmly, in hues of gold, then casting darker shadows on the white houses.



We find a muddy path leading down the hill and we follow that instead of the road, but really, the station here is so small that it has no paved road running to it. And it has no inside space, no place to actually wait.


So we take a short stroll up the road to look back at Obidos from a distance, there towering over cherry orchards.


And then Ed sits by the old wooden station shed (Is it a shed? A place to offload freight in the past?) and I pace.


It can be cool in the evenings – forties maybe? ...and I managed to pick up the Portuguese winter sniffles already so keeping warm is a priority. Back and forth until the train pulls in, throwing a sparkle on the tiled station walls.


Our connections are easier on the return. Shortly after eight we are in Sintra. And since yesterday’s “Regional” restaurant is right by the station, we eat there again. Delicious “traditional” shrimp (the waiter explains: we pan cook them in olive oil until just pink, we remove them and the oil, we add butter, garlic, then a hot sauce and mustard – that’s it!):


...and a grilled sea bream.


In so many ways this was such a quiet, simple day. We rode the trains, we walked, we rode the trains back. On the return trip, we sat in a car with a group of high school kids – boys and girls with long dark hair, flirting, talking, laughing, so hard, in the way that you no longer laugh ever again after your younger years. They had such a confident happiness about them! As if train rides like this one are nothing unusual – and the years would continue in this same way, and there would always be laughter.

In this I find the greatest reassurance: that an ordinary train ride can be so joyful for these kids. To be for a few minutes in their space is perhaps the best way to end a travel journey.