We cleaned up our AirBnB a bit, left behind the few groceries we bought but never ate, and headed to the train station.
There was a larger chain grocery in the train station, and I went in to get us a bite to eat for lunch. This was the first grocery with a meat and fish counter and deli that I’d seen. I walked around it as if I was in a tourist attraction, and suppressed my desire to take lots of photos. You could squeeze fresh oranges for juice yourself or get it already squeezed in bottles on ice. There were all kinds and cuts of meats, poultry and seafood that you never see in the states, including stacks of bacalhau, the dried slabs of codfish that is a staple of Portuguese cuisine. This is truly a Slow Food nation that eats most of the animal, leaving very little to waste. I often saw pig’s ears on menus. There was one menu of tapas where we decided not to eat – one of the offerings was “grilled guts” – the true mystery meat.
I learned my first train lesson…don’t choose the first class option without checking the type of train. It was only a few euros more so we thought we’d try it. But the train was a regional train and there was no first and second class. Seating was not assigned. Masks were always required and enforced, although you always had the one or two blockheads who wore their masks below their noses.
Our hotel was only a short, flat walk from the station in Tomar, and what an experience it was! Central Family Palace was a huge mansion built in 1763. The common areas and stairways were dimly lit and full of antiques. It was inexpensive so I picked a room that opened onto a beautiful old terrace overlooking a large garden with flowers and citrus trees. The room itself was renovated and had a private bathroom, and had the only soft mattress we enjoyed in Portugal. If we move here, mattress padding will be essential.
It was not an easy place to figure out, though. We had been told to call thirty minutes before check-in, but I forgot and we got there at check-in time anyway. We followed another couple in and there was no reception area marked and no one around. I called the number and a very friendly fellow came out of a back room who I wonder if he was the manager or one of the owners. Then a bunch of other people came in, and a very disgruntled lady, and he got kind of stressed out, but he showed us through a maze of stairways and halls to our room with great humor and let us know where to go for additional help. I was floored by the terrace and the view. The oranges were tantalizingly out of reach in the garden just below.
Our bathroom had not been stocked so I walked down to the office and let the employee there know, then we went wandering through the town in search of food. We identified a few shops that we wanted to check out if they were open on Monday, and simply enjoyed the walk through narrow streets and the riverside.
It was early yet and in Portugal most restaurants begin serving at 7 p.m. at the earliest, and Tomar is not a big tourist town (yet), so it was quite empty on a Sunday afternoon. However, we found a small cafe, Mesa de Frades, open. She did not speak English but whipped out her phone with Google Translate and I did the same. We both had a slice of what she called “homemade pudding,” but it was what we know as flan but sliced like cake, and it was delicious. I bought a cold bottle of vinho verde to go to drink on the terrace in the evenings.
Then we went back for a nap and a rest on the terrace, and I had one of my few unpleasant experiences when I saw that our bathroom had still not been stocked and I assumed that he had forgotten. I walked down to the office and the guy was on the phone and frazzled. He barked, “Toilet paper, soap, and shampoo, YES! I am busy on the phone!” I walked away a bit stunned because I had been completely nice, but he did get up to our room in the next 15 minutes.
Other than that, the place was great and I would totally stay there again!
We headed back out in search of dinner, and found a small cafe on a narrow side street with a handful of tables inside and out called Clandestino. This was one of the few places that we ate inside during our trip (pandemic, remember?). Again, there was a bit of a language problem and we didn’t get exactly what we ordered, but I still enjoyed it. I was starting to crave vegetarian food again so I ordered a mushroom dish. Instead, I received a plate full of long necked clams, which were absolutely wonderful. Full of garlic. I can’t have enough garlic!
It was a full moon that night and the castle on the hill was lit up. The Convento de Cristo would be our destination the next day.