Tomar: Crusading Knights, Twin Hobo Pooches and a Meat Feast

Stone spiral staircases abound in this place

We’re here – N39.60799 W8.41074, in the municipal camping at Tomar, and it is fan-flipping-tastic for the sum total of €12 (they shut tomorrow, or we’d probably stay a week).

Weather – bright blue sky, not a cloud in sight, but rather chilly in the evening.

Last night wasn’t as messy as predicted; although we did partake of some of the thickest drinking chocolate I’ve ever seen; real spoon standing up stuff for €1.60 a go in a town-centre cafe. We headed back to our vans at about 11pm, and as I walked Charlie I could see we’d all fired our gas heating up, it may be sunny but it’s getting down to 2 or 3 degrees C outside. We popped Charlie in his sleeping bag and found him this morning still in there; in fact he was VERY in there, with his bum poking out the entrance and snoring noises coming from deep inside the bag!

Much excitement this morning: we were off the Convento de Cristo, one-time head quarters of the Knights Templar. Until yesterday, I knew nothing about these guys, apart from recalling a vague mention of them in The Da Vinci Code. I don’t know much more now to be honest, so wouldn’t base your history essay on this distillation of Wikipedia articles:

  • They were bunch of skilled fighting monks, formed around 800 years ago, although relatively few of them were actually honest-to-god sword wielding killers
  • They were also great at raising funds, and banking, and hence were fabulously rich
  • However, individual knights were not rich, having given every penny they owned up to the order, to be allowed to join
  • They had the run of the land, being allowed to pay no taxes and to travel freely between borders
  • Perhaps most importantly, they were handy to have when crusading in the Holy Land as a kind of horse-mounted medieval SAS, leading the charge and breaking the Turk’s lines
  • Once the crusades were over, the Templars still had huge wealth, and had loaned a load of cash to the Kings of France and England. Rather than paying this back, the king of France trumped up load of charges against the knights (spitting on the cross and the like) and arrested a hundred or so French knights and tortured confessions out of them
  • Other countries took up the chance to do a bit of Templar bashing (with the added advantage of siezing their assets no doubt) and soon enough only Portugal was safe. They flocked here, changing their name to the Order of Christ in the process
All this schoolboy fantasy come true history added to my excitement. We left Dave in the municipal camping (thanks to www.theworldisourlobster.com for recommending it, it’s fabulous, as is the castle) and walked the km or 2 up to the walls. I always imagine myself an invader at such places. Looking up at the walls I wonder how anyone could have gotten inside; in this instance I don’t think anyone did, and the moors were repelled at least once.
Walking around the place, we were stunned at the sheer scale of it (once we’d gotten over the joy of being issued a ticket for 2 adults at €0 each, with a total entrance fee of €0). I find it easy when faced with such overwhelming magnificence to miss the beauty and detail of the individual parts making it up. Finely sculptured faces, almost life size knights, skulls, ropes, spiral staircases, cherubs crushing little devil creates beneath their feat. All of it crafted, somehow, from solid stone. We took plenty photos and the odd video, apologies if this is a bit boring when read from afar, but we were slack jawed at the place (for a couple of hours anyway, then finally got Templar’d out).

Heading back to Dave, we got news from Jacqui they’d found a €25 Ukelele at Lidl on their way out of town. We grabbed Charlie and headed to the Lidl in town (having a short conversation with some fellow French Cav-owners on the way out the campsite – my French is appalling!). No Ukes at Lidl, although Charlie did meet the pair of little-ist hobo pooches he’d met this morning. Ju bought bread and apple shoes, while I waited outside, ignoring the local begger. As we wandered back in the sun, I nipped into a local fooderie. It had some good smells coming out of it and turned out to be a BBQ grub type place selling kebabs, sausages and ribs. With a combination of pointing gestures and help from an English speaking punter, I got us a huge collection of meat (€10) and we’ve just seen it off. Charlie’s sleeping off a rib while Ju’s trying the ‘afternoon kip’ method of trying to shed a cold.
The sun shines, our washing is being done and dried by the campsite, a hot shower awaits and we’ve got full-on WiFi so I can catch up on my Templar history and continue the Ukelele search! Happy days, I truly do wish our friends and family were with us here; it’s a great place to spend the days before Xmas 2011.
Cheers, Jay
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