Today began with a fabulous breakfast spread. Something for everyone, and all fresh. Emily loved serving herself and dished up a very healthy mix of bread, meat, cheese, fresh fruit and yoghurt. Felix also ate really well and Jason was enamoured with the fresh juices. A good start to the day, literally.
Our main agenda today was the Convento de Cristo, which was the headquarters of the legendary Knights of the Templar. Part church, part castle, part convent, it stands on a hill above and just behind the old town. The monastery was founded in 1160 by the then Grand Master of the Templars, and has been added to in Gothic, Manueline and Remaissance styles over the centuries. It is remarkably well preserved, and incredibly accessible to visitors who are almost given free reign to roam. We drove up there, though there is a steep path from the town, and spent hours poking around in awe of both it's historical significance and it's architectural beauty.
The entry fee was minimal and there didn't seem to be many visitors though the facilities were superb. The shops were filled with quality rather than tat, the bathrooms modern and the cafeteria well stocked and newly refurbished. They seem to have an almost casual attitude to the historical significence of the place, with much freer access given to us than would have been anywhere else. In one instance we came across some workers laughingly attempting to rid a room of pigeons using a broom and several long poles tapes together. They would weave from one end of the room to the other, languidly chasing the reluctant birds and brushing against the tiles and frescoes of centuries gone by!
The incredible Charola or church, has 16 sides apparently designed to enable the knights to attend mass on horseback, always battle ready. There is an inner circular altar and the larger outer circle, both richly embellished with gold and frescoes, both surprisingly intact. That was a highlight, as was the Manueline window of the chapter house, covered with intricate stone carvings all embedded with lichen.
Felix was fairly ratty by this stage and the girls were getting that way so we went to the cafe for refreshment and energy. We had some lovely fresh made rolls and a drink, though felix's need turned out to be sleep rather than food. Replenished, we continued our tour of the convent proper, visiting the dormitories, the refectory and kitchens, and various beautiful cloisters. The entire visit here is a highlight of our trip. The girls enjoyed poking around the stone buildings and inventing games and stories. They sat at the long stone tables of the refectory and pretended they were at school and I was the teacher in the pulpit!
Mid afternoon Jason drove the girls back to the hotel playground (amid much protestation that he would get lost as serena was not with us!) while I walked with a still sleeping felix in the sling down the path to town. It was a quick though steep descent and then I walked through the stone streets tempting to find a photo shop that could transfer all the pictures and videos from the iPhone to a disk as am running out of space. Eventually I was successful and left the phone there while I went back to find everyone.
We had a quick swim in the hotel pool (though I stayed fairly dry as the water's a tad too chilly for me) and I took felix for a bath to warm us both up. Such a luxury having a bath.
Just before dinner Jason got an email regarding his visa requesting more documents to demonstrate our relationship between nov 2009 and 2011! Ummm...marriage and three children isn't sufficient?? Is a bit difficult as we have virtually nothing available to us. Jason is going to try and call the immigration guy tonight. It doesn't bode well. I would be amazed if it's ready by the time we are supposed to go to Australia - in 3 weeks! Oh well. Whatever will be will be.
Not wanting to go out, we had a luxurious pre dinner drink and then ate at the hotel restaurant which unfortunately sounded much better than it was. Still a nice meal though. As usual, the children ate little and were rambunctious - they don't fare well on the Mediterranean mealtimes. I am now putting them all to bed while Jason attempts to get more information on the visa situation. Goodnight.