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Lisbon to Fatima, Portugal

Nida Spalding loves to read, travel, and spend time with family and friends. She believes that curiosity and persistence are key to happiness and success.

Traveling requires an open mind. Persistence sometimes works. And it's okay to cry.

Our Vueling Airlines flight just landed in Lisbon, Portugal from Barcelona, Spain. This was part of our family summer vacation. After a 7-day Mediterranean Cruise and a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, we headed to Fatima, another Catholic pilgrimage, 90 minutes by bus from Lisbon.

I had 120 euros left. After buying coffees, hot chocolate, pastries and a McNuggets Happy Meal at the airport, there was not much left. Keeping my family nourished was the least I could do. Steve, my husband was not a practicing Catholic. He came along to be supportive of my faith. Ryan, my 14-year-old son, had no choice on the matter.

I was determined not to use any of my remaining euros on a taxi. We needed to get to the hotel, drop our bags and catch the bus to Fatima. Yes, it would have been easier to take a taxi, but Lisbon Metro was fantastic once we figured it out. "Take the red line to Alameda, then transfer on the green line to Roma," the lady at the Tourist Information Desk said. With the help of friendly locals, we found Lutecia Smart Design Hotel — modern, well-maintained and right next to the train station.

And I was right to hang on to every euro I had. The local restaurant where we had burgers and legume soup didn't take credit cards.

After the hurried lunch and some confusion at the self-service ticket machines, we boarded the train to Sete-Rios, where we caught the Rede-Expressos bus to Fatima. The bus ride was comfortable, almost soothing. The ticket was $15 per person. We didn't have enough euros for the bus trip back to Lisbon.



There was no currency exchange in Fatima. There was an ATM which required a 6-digit PIN but my bank PIN was seven digits. A bank employee tried to assist but cautioned, "After three attempts, the ATM will swallow your debit card." After all that stress, Steve and Ryan started bickering. I burst into tears. They exchanged guilty looks.

"Now what do we do?" Steve said softly, exhaustion written on his face. I pulled out twenty-dollar bills from my purse, my emergency stash. I strode inside two stores, dollar bills in hand, asking if they would exchange them for euros. "We need euros for the bus fare," I explained. They looked at me like I was some fraudster. I approached several people who gave me the same look. I said to myself. "Do I look like a scammer?" Steve and Ryan just watched me, looking uncomfortable.

Finally, a kind-faced young woman, a neurosurgeon from Malaysia traveling with her mother, took pity on me. "Of course," she said and gave me two 20 euro notes in exchange for 45 US dollars.

Perhaps Lady Fatima was already working her miracles. With fare money secured, we proceeded to the Sanctuary. I attended a rosary at the open-air Chapel of the Apparitions. Visiting the shrine and seeing the statue of the Lady of Fatima filled me with emotions. Tears fell as I felt the love of the Virgin Mother. We had an hour to take in the peaceful vibe, take photos, and visit the museum which housed the tomb of three shepherd children to whom the Virgin Mary appeared in 1917. Then it was time to get back on the bus. It was 7:30 p.m.

On the 90-minute bus ride back to Lisbon, I contemplated on our journey as a family to this holy and special place. We had made it.

~ Nida Spalding






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