The shutters banged closed as I poked my head out of the duvet. “What’s up?” I asked, sleepily. A moment ago the rare appearance of spring sunshine had been flooding the room. “They’re slaughtering a sheep in the garden opposite”, whispered my husband, not wanting the children to hear.
It was Good Friday. We aren’t from a family of farmers or own a country estate, and thus like most middle English people end up buying meat wrapped in lots of plastic presented on a purple polysterene tray or disguised in breadcrumbs with the picture of a smiling animal on the front just to reassure us it wasn’t depressed in its short and unfulfilled life. So we didn’t open the window again until the slaughter was over and the animal which until that morning had probably been running gaily around the meadow with a spring in its step, was taken away.
Our village has fourteen crosses and each has been adorned with flowers for Easter. We missed the ceremony due to our trip to Lisbon. We missed the parades due to the rain. We missed the motorcross rally due to our trip to Tomar. We left to the roar of engines as about fifty motorbikes descended on the village. We should have stayed and watched the entertainment, the parade of bikes, racing and rock concert, but the children’s concern about where their traditional Easter egg hunt was going to take place suddenly became of prime importance as the day approached and the reality that our balcony wasn’t up to the job asserted itself.
I scoured accommodation on booking.com. We usually use this website because it filters out places that won’t take dogs, narrowing our choice to about half a dozen. Narrowing it further to those with a suitable garden for an Easter egg hunt and within our price range took me to a place just outside Tomar, only an hour and a half drive away which even the children couldn’t really grumble about. Well, you’d have thought so anyway.
Tomar is definitely worth your time if you come on a trip to central Portugal and made me realise just how lucky we were to live in Castelo Branco. An hour from the mountains, an hour to the beautiful countryside around Tomar, a couple of hours to the coast and two and a half hours to Lisbon. Even the train to Lisbon is fascinating as it snakes along a track with stunning views of the River Tagus. Added to that the river beaches in the Castelo Branco region and the rugged pine covered forests with walking tracks….yes I was actually thinking all this in the car on the way while we studied the wooded scenery out of the car window driving along an empty motorway.
Like all hotels which we book online, many of the facilities were non-existent or simply still closed for the season. The last hotel we’d stayed in had boasted a spa and a restaurant. Both unavailable. This place at least had the advertised ponies, a very adequate and clean wooden chalet and rambling gardens. We never found a games room and the children were disappointed to find a cover on the outdoor pool.
Meanwhile I scoured the room for the wood burner which had encouraged me to go ahead and press the ‘book now’ button. We managed however to insist on the free bike hire they had advertised and they dusted off two bikes with flat tyres. I guess we were the first of the season to request them.
My husband and daughter cycled off while I prepared dinner with the feast I had bought from Serra, the nearest village with a shop. This had been a fabulous discovery when I went searching for ice creams earlier in the day with a stunning view of the sparkling reservoir, Castelo do Bode, and several cafes arranged neatly around a church and a square.
The following morning, cosily huddled under the bedding, rain pattering down outside, we watched the door handle slowly turn. It was Easter Sunday. Too early. My son crept into the room. “Has the Easter bunny been?” he whispered hopefully.
I don’t know why I start these things which result in my husband tramping out in torrential rain or snow every year with a bagful of chocolate while I use all my powers of distraction in a bid to create happy childhood memories. Ten minutes later the children squelched around the garden prodding trees and parting shrubs, poking holes and peering under bushes. We all missed our garden in England, with the ducks pecking around our heels, and the many gnarled fruit trees which were perfect to hide chocolate eggs in, while I stood by in dressing gown and wellies, but we had done our best to recreate it this morning.
We drove home in silence as the children munched chocolate in the back seat and I peered at the view, and at the sheep in the stoney fields blurred by rain which bounced energetically off the windscreen.