Tuesday, June 07, 2016
Being the only Catholic in the family besides mum, I really could only say "yes" when my mum asked me to join her on a tri-country pilgrimage in Europe with emphasis on the sites of Marian apparitions. A rare chance to go on a long holiday with mum. At the same time, KH asked me to go on a Hokkaido road trip with him, but I'll talk about that later. Since the trip was organised by a Kuching-based tour agency, 80% of the participants were from East Malaysia and were heavy duty Hakka and Foochow speakers.
I didn't start packing until a few days before departure due to a shitty work schedule. My CEO was pursuing a deal with a local bank and was going all out to spin his proposal. So I guess it was lucky that I could escape it for two weeks. Will think about the shit after I get back.
My flight was on Monday evening but we had to arrive at the airport pretty early to meet up with the main group. Mum fried some noodles and I ate that at 5:00 PM. At 6:00 PM, I had some McDonald's French fries halfway to the airport. That a was treat from a friend from BEC who sent us to the airport. Joined up with the tour agency at the check-in counter where we received our tour freebies of luggage, travel charger, passport holder, baggage tags and even snacks and premix drink sachets.
Before boarding, I ate again-- a spicy chicken burger from McD. Don't know whether you noticed but KLIA as a free e-Book service now. I browsed some of the titles on the provided tablet and found something pretty disturbing: "Bulu Baru Zaza". Literally translates to "Zaza's New Hair/Fur". Maybe I'm just skanky, but it sounds like Zaza just hit puberty. Haha.
Our flight was operated by Turkish Airlines and it wasn't bad. Never heard the language before and I found it to be a little like Tamil. Lol. And we ate again after the seat belt sign was switched off. Lol. Watched "Madd Max" until 1:00 AM and tried to get some shut eye after that. On and off, I managed to get about 6 hours of shut eye. Breakfast was served and I watched another movie, "Black Mass".
Arrived at Istanbul at 4:00 AM local time. Taxied on the runway for about twenty minutes and even after that we took a long bus ride to the main terminal. Ataturk Airport must be a super big and busy airport. Inside, it wasn't very pretty or interesting. Our transit was about 3 hours and in that time I learned that Turkish Delights aren't cheap at all.
The connecting flight was another 5 hours. Had my second breakfast of scrambled eggs, olives and cheese. Went through some random movie selections and only properly finished "Mr. Holmes". Skimmed through "Pixel" and "The Happening". Lisbon Airport was also huge and looked industrial, but kinda quiet. The weather was a pleasant 14C but it was a little wet.
From there on, we transferred to long distance coach. Our driver's name was Mario and the first stop was lunch in Lisbon. To my surprise, we ate at a Chinese restaurant called O Grande Mundo. Seriously. Chinese food. Taste-wise it was quite good but some dishes a bit salty. The only thing local was the strawberries for dessert. Bwahaha.
Although we had landed in Lisbon, we did not have the chance to view the city properly. As the bus traveled past the monuments, we had to take photos as quickly as we could. A very cursory introduction. Spotted Jardim Afonso de Albuquerque, Discoveries Monument, Belem Tower and the Águas Livres Aqueduct. The road hugged the coastline and I'm sure I missed more than I could record here. Will definitely revisit Lisbon when I have the chance.
Traveled 83 KM out of Lisbon to Santarem, the site of Portugal's most visited pilgrimage site-- St. Stephen's Church / Church of the Holy Miracle. We proceeded by foot to the small church because it is hidden in an old area of small paved alleys. Upon entering the interior, my nose was greeted by the scent of sweet incense. Everything in there looks very antiquated. At the pinnacle of altar is the Eucharistic Miracle of Santarem, enclosed in a gold and silver monstrance.
A private mass was celebrated there by the priest who was tagging along. Luckily he's the cincai type else it would be like a vacation catechism. Right after mass we were allowed to the top of the altar to view the relic up close. At the back is a whole lot of antique Marian statues, old vestments and other religious paraphernalia. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the church at all.
According to the story, a desperate woman tried to stop her husband's infidelity by seeking out the services of a sorceress. The price was a piece of the consecrated Host, which the woman took out of her mouth and smuggled out of the church in her veil. However, she attracted a lot of attention because the consecrated Host stared to bleed profusely. Back home, she hid the consecrated Host at the bottom of a trunk in her bedroom. In the middle of the night, a mysterious light escaped from the trunk. She confessed what she did and returned the consecrated Host to the church in a wax container. A second miracle was recorded when the wax container was found to be broken in the tabernacle and the sacred Host was encased in a crystal pyx. Hence what is contained in the monstrance is the physical manifestation of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Continued on to Fatima after that, the land of limestone pavements and olive trees. The whole of Fatima is centered upon Our Lady of Fatima. The town obviously thrives on religious-tourism, which feeds all the hotels, souvenirs shops and restaurants. When we arrived at Cinquentenário Hotel, it was raining and that was an indication of the weather to come. In my opinion, the hotel was clean and new but it had its quirks. Although a four star hotel, they didn't provide bottled water or slippers. There weren't any cups and there was no hot water kettle. Hot water would be so welcome in the cold weather. At least the WiFi was decent.
Strangely, our dinner was at a hotel nearby called Catolica Hotel where we had something more Portuguese. Started off with a potato-based soup with bread, followed by more potatoes which were grated and stir-fried with codfish. That was followed by a salad of carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. The waitresses kept trying to push us with seconds (there was a lot of leftovers) but it was truly too much carbs. We also had white wine but the group was not alcoholic enough to polish off all the bottles.
Many retired early to recover from the long journey, but a few of us decided to at our Lady of Fatima a visit first. The Chapel of the Apparition is just short walk away from the hotel, but we weren't exactly dressed warm enough. Shivered our way there, said a little prayer and rushed back to the hotel to wash off two days of grime and to get a good night's sleep.