Thursday, November 29, 2007

Déjà Visité

Some years back I went to Portugal for the first time. My then boyfriend and I stayed in a sleepy fishing village Salema, and as soon as I set foot in the Algarve, I felt at home.
I didn't know much about the area, but the locals were friendly, the food and wine was fantastic, the country beautiful and wild, and between the gorgeous sandy beaches and historical sight-seeing available, I didn't want to go home.
We spent the first week or so just flopping around by the sea while I spent hours beach combing and swimming in the crystal clear waters, the only way of telling it was nearly time for dinner being the arrival of the fishing boats bringing in a vast array of the freshest fish and seafood available right up to our 'adopted' restaurant a stone's throw away from the beach itself.
We hadn't bothered to book a hire car as there were buses to take us to nearby towns and markets if we wanted to, and we'd spend the evenings mostly walking around the village taking in the gently cooling air and surrounding beauty. All was well, and I can't remember a time when I was so relaxed.
I even managed to pick up the basics of the language within a few days, and although my accent was probably laughable to the locals, they were happy to teach me more*
Anyway, after getting ourselves totally chilled out, one day we decided to get a bus and spend the day in Sagres, also known as 'The End of the World'. I'd never heard of the place before, but we'd found a leaflet in the local bar telling us that this was the place where Henry the Navigator founded his school teaching navigation and map making.
We got off the bus, and after a quick sniff around to get our bearings trundled up the peninsular towards the school. The peninsular was long and windswept, with stunning views of the sea and cliffs on both sides. Other tourists were walking around as well, and by the time we got to the entrance gates, there was quite a crowd gathered.
We heard that a guided tour was about to start, so we joined the party of about twenty people, and after a short wait, inside we went.
The main gates led us into a corridor with large stone walls, narrow windows, and an imposing high ceiling, and as we walked along, one of the other visitors remarked how wonderful the place was. To my great surprise, I heard a voice in my head saying "It's not when it rains, it's awful here when it rains. Hours and hours on guard duty in the rain, is certainly not wonderful". Now, I am not the sort of person who 'hears voices' on a regular basis, in fact that was the only time it ever happened, so to say I was surprized was an understatement to say the least. I didn't say anything to the boyfriend, just in case he decided to call men in white coats, and we just carried on following the tour guide.
At the end of the corridor, it opened out into what had been a guardroom. Ahead was the entrance to a large courtyard, and to the left was a fireplace and seating and eating area for the guards. The tourists were taking their time getting through the narrow doorway, so I turned to the boyfriend and "Hey, it's quicker to go through the side door over there"
"What door?" he asked looking around, "I can't see another door"
"It's just behind the wall there" I replied, and then stopped in my tracks thinking 'How the feck did I know there was a door there?'
The boyfriend went to look, and sure enough, just hidden by the wall, was another door.
He gave me a very strange look before we headed out of the side door and into the courtyard.
I stopped in my tracks, and staring around said "What the hell happened to the buildings?"
The boyfriend gave me another stare and asked "Erm... what buildings?"
"There used to be a load of buildings over there, just before the cliffs" I replied, and then gave myself a strange look before adding "How on earth did I know that?"
The tour guide called us over to a newly built building which housed a museum all about the school, and inside we went. We looked at relics in glass cases before finding information boards about what the place had been like in the 15th Century, and to both our astonishments, found that sure enough, exactly where I'd pointed to the lack of buildings was where the old barracks and halls had been, but they'd been razed during an earthquake some years before.
The museum marked the end of the guided tour bit, and we were offered pamphlets or books to buy tell us more about the place if we wanted them.
We declined the offer and wombled off to explore the rest of the site.
After I'd told the boyfriend all about the giant compass, and where a couple of other buildings had been, (which again, I hadn't known about before) we went to have a look at a small building at the far end of the square. Clutching my camera, I decided to take some clickage and snapped away at the compass and cliffs for a while. I asked the boyfriend to pose in the middle of the compass, and said "Hang on, I can get a better shot from the top of that building there" and pointed to what looked like a wall with no visible means of getting to it's roof. But sure enough, as we went round the corner, there was a flight of steps leading to a small roof terrace.
By this time, both of us were getting a tad freaked. I'd never been there before, never read anything about the place, indeed, hadn't even heard about it before we got to Portugal. So how did I know so much about it?
The icing on the cake was when we went to have a look at the church and I said I had to get a picture from up where the bell was. Of course, from where we'd been standing, we couldn't see the flight of stairs leading to the bell, but I just knew it was there.
I've had that feeling of déjà vu, and so have many people I know, but that was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.
Have any of you lot been through the same or similar?

*I had tried getting a Linguaphone tape thingy before I went, but as the first lesson taught me how to say "Hello, my name is Alan, and I'm an architect" I gave up on it, as I didn't think I'd ever need to say that in Portugal.