Traveling Portugal: Stillness in Obidos

We left Lisbon and picked up our rental car to drive to Obidos. Portugal drives on the right side of the road which inevitably eases my “new country driving” anxiety, but once you leave major highways you can see why people hesitate to self-drive. Obidos is a small village surrounded entirely by castle walls, so only the bravest attempt to park inside of town “proper”. We went searching for a parking lot but managed to pass our street as the road turned to complete cobblestone and narrowed significantly. We clobbered forward alongside the castle walls to our left, easing our way past stone walls on a road barely wide enough for a small car. The cobblestones were uneven and dipped in places. Somehow, we managed to find a spot right up against the castle wall like a parking miracle. We later learned where the big parking lot was that we had missed, but I like to think that parallel parking between slabs of 12th-century stone was more character building.

The village of Obidos is a 180-degree change from Lisbon. It’s tiny and has a feeling of being arrested in time – settlements there date back to the 8th century, though the best information I could find put the construction of most castle walls beginning in the 12th century. Restaurants are tucked into itty bitty alleys and flower-covered homes tower over the skinny sidewalks, creating patches of shade. Obidos is famous for “ginja”, a cherry-flavored liquor sold in tiny chocolate cups. The tiny village is home to around a dozen roadside stands which offer shots of this liquor for around 1 Euro. We immediately dug in – the chocolate cup almost melts before you can finish the sweet liquid underneath the bright sun.

Visitors can climb the walls that surround the town at almost every turn – this was a surprise for me. Every so often there is a set of massive stone steps that bring you right to the top. Some wall paths are wide enough for 2-lane walking traffic, and others are barely wide enough for one person to pass. It was dizzying at moments, and I had to pause and consider whether I was ballsey enough to traverse certain stretches of wall. There are NO guardrails on one side. A dad walking ahead of me pulled a nervous child by the arm as she clung to a side of the stone like wall taffy. The occasional aggressive burst of wind made the experience that much more colorful.  

We had dinner that night at Alcaide on the second floor of an unassuming building with a back balcony. For 6 Euros you get a personal jug of wine that’s equivalent to more than half a bottle. The fish was fresh and covered in salty champagne sauce. Patrons spoke a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English, which swirled together throughout the small room. Dinner felt a bit brash and impersonal at times, but it wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of hospitality. It just felt like a different version of casual (eating and drinking was “all business”, so to speak). I attempted some broken Portuguese in the beginning, and by the time the check came, our server offered no English. Somehow, it all still worked.

Afterwards we wandered streets that had become whisper quiet after having been jammed and bustling earlier. It was haunting yet peaceful, the way you could become so easily lost down empty pathways. It was like being transported back in time, frozen in stillness. I walked in a blur of the 20,000+ steps I’d taken that day, trying to see all the beautiful pieces of a place in a single day. But you can do all that and still occasionally feel the pause at night, see a faintly lit alleyway with a stone floor, and feel connected to something unidentifiable in a strange country. One bright star shone over the stone streets, and a yellow-leafed tree danced against the crumbling walls of the castle right behind our balcony. I heard nothing else but a still piece of settling time.

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