After coffee, I found a nice trail that ringed the walled old city and wound through a forested area. I saw one guy walking his dog and a woman running. I headed back to the hotel to catch up on emails and other tasks before checking out and walking across the street to the bus stop for the 10-minute ride to the terminal in Caldas da Reinha. I had about 40 minutes to kill before the bus to Santarém, so I walked into a grocery store and bought a package of sliced cheese to snack on. A 200 gram package was 1,59 EUR. In the US it would’ve been 3 times as much.
The bus ride to Santarém was clearly a local. It took an hour and 15 minutes. The Mercedes Benz buses are new and air-conditioned and not crowded. It sure beat taking the train back to Lisbon and then heading north on another train. In the hinterlands the people are mostly native Portuguese. You can see the facial characteristics of the 16th-century explorers in their faces, especially the younger ones. They’re good-looking people. They’re quieter than Americans and aren’t constantly looking at their phones. I always notice the details when I travel.
Santarém is in the Ribatejo, along the Tagus River. It was in the low 90’s when I got there mid-afternoon, but very dry, unlike the more humid areas near the Atlantic. After checking into the hotel, my first “luxury” accommodation, I went to my top-floor room to plan the late afternoon activities. Around 5, I headed into the historic center. Although it was 90, the humidity was low, so the 30-minute walk into the historic core was tolerable. I walked by several 400-year old churches and found one that was open, the Church of Misericórdia, built in 1552 and rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake. Its organ, built in 1818, is quite well known in musical circles. The church is now a municipal property and the sacristy is open for tours. It’s really stunning.
As the thunder started, I walked into a covered cafe for a water and a glass of wine. Although threatening, the storm never really arrived as predicted, though the temperature dropped to a comfortable 75. I made an online reservation at one of the renowned restaurants in town, Taberna Ó Balcão, run by chef Rodrigo Castelo. I arrived as they opened, at 7:00 pm. Of course, at that hour, I was the only one there, but the staff were fantastic. I had a local soup and small river shrimp dish to begin, and an exquisite cod main course. The server explained all of the details of the preparation, which I can’t fully recall, but it was incredible. The ambience was country chic, with a full view of the kitchen. After a leisurely 90 minutes, I walked 15 minutes back to my hotel under a gentle sprinkle.