Thursday, July 30, 2015

Galicia after the Camino

July 30, 2015
It turns out there is much more to discover in Galicia after the Camino to Santiago is finished. Galicia is a verdant garden of Eden. Unfortunately there is a reason for that green lushness: rain. It has been a bit wet the last two days but our trusty Pocket Earth app delivered wonderful routes that wound up to ridges far above the deep valleys  and hills below. I am completely knackered from all the climbing, but the last 15 kms today were a great pay off. We traced a lonely serpent of asphalt, plunging through mature forests and down through terraced fields and vineyards and tiny hamlets clinging to the valley walls.  It seems somewhat out of place in the wild landscape, but we are now in the Ribiero wine producing region.  We had a pleasant bottle of a local white wine with our menu del dia today.

Tomorrow we return to Portugal through the mountains of the Peneda-Geres National Park.  We will be staying for 3 nights in a remote hamlet at the 1000 meter level.  As there is no wi-fi access or cell coverage we will be incommunicado for the duration. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Day 19: Santiago de Compostela

July 27, 2014

Gord and I followed the Camino route all the way into Santiago today. It was an absolutely stunning ride but much more challenging than the 68 kms would have been on the road.  Luckily I seem to be getting into shape, which allowed me to power up some terribly steep sections. In spite of my stiff legs and sore knees it was completely worth it. 

We are settled into our pilgrim room at Hospedaria San Martin Pinario and made it here in time to have their afternoon meal. This is just the best place to eat. We are tired and ecstatic to have completed our pilgrimage, and pleased that unlike our other arrivals in Santiago, this is not the end of our vacation.  The day after tomorrow we head back towards Portugal via eastern Galicia.

I will post larger pictures when the wifi is stronger. 

Day 19: Santiago de Compostela

July 27, 2014

Gord and I followed the Camino route all the way into Santiago today. It was an absolutely stunning ride but much more challenging than the 68 kms would have been on the road.  Luckily I seem to be getting into shape, which allowed me to power up some terribly steep sections. In spite of my stiff legs and sore knees it was completely worth it. 

We are settled into our pilgrim room at Hospedaria San Martin Pinario and made it here in time to have their afternoon meal. This is just the best place to eat. We are tired and ecstatic to have completed our pilgrimage, and pleased that unlike our other arrivals in Santiago, this is not the end of our vacation.  The day after tomorrow we head back towards Portugal via eastern Galicia.

I will post larger pictures when the wifi is stronger. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Day 18: Valença to Pontevedra

July 26, 2015

Oh it was hard to leave Portugal, but also thrilling to enter Galicia again. The first kilometres in Spain were just magical. The beauty resumed after we made it passed Porriño with its ugly industrial section and competing arrow wars. Certain members of the community continually deface and cross out arrows re marking the Camino to pass by their businesses. By the end of our pretty riding day Gord and I were so distracted by the beauty that we took an alternate route that climbed an unnecessary mountain. Oops! 

For walkers caring for your feet is very important, for cyclists, it's the ass. I am on day 18 and finally my butt is transforming into a touring hide. Thank-you ass ferry for your needed intercession. Speaking of... Here is Gord offering his own glysomed treatment to a pilgrim complaining of chafing. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Day 16 & 17: Ponte de Lima to Viana do Costelo & Viana to Valença


Looking over to Spain from Valença. 

July 25, 2015
Gordon: Today is the feast day of St. James, the patron saint of Spain.  We are intentionally two days ride from Santiago, to allow the crowds to clear so we can get a place to stay when we arrive there.

Tonight we are staying in the Portuguese town of Valença, famous throughout northwestern Spain for ... towels and sheets.  I presume that prices are cheaper than in Spain, because the Spanish come by the hundreds to stock up on household items.  Many shops offered towels by the kilo, and it was shocking to see how burdened some of the successful shoppers were.

Where you could see past the piles of linen, Valença is actually quite a striking historic town.  The town centre is built inside two adjacent fortresses, which were designed to discourage Spanish visitors during an earlier century.  The Portuguese fortresses are matched by one on the Spanish side of the river, in the town of Tui, that we will pass through tomorrow morning.  

Although the Portuguese are happy to have Spanish shoppers over for the day, the relationship between the two nationalities is still not as warm as might be expected.  Portugal long felt politically threatened by its larger neighbour, and there still appear to be some issues.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Day 14 & 15: Vila do Conde to Guimarães, Guimarães to Ponte de Lima

July 24, 2015
We have been having much too much fun to blog. When you have a husband like Gord, humour tends to stick, even to the serious moments. As he explains, "trolls are funny when they are not being creepy."

The view from our bedroom in Ponte de Lima. 

For the last few days we have been zigzagging between the coastal and interior Camino routes, hitting all the jewels of the Minho area. We have the time now as we slow down to miss the crowds in Santiago on Saint James' Day (July 25).  Unlike the south, the Minho is green and lush like Galicia, and for the first time this trip we woke up to rain. This gives us time to relax in this lovely pension while we wait for the forecast end of the rain.  It will be sunny and 31 degrees again tomorrow.

After Villa do Conde we headed inland, on a reclaimed rail bed for much of the distance, to the medieval town of Guimarães. Here the very powerful Dukes of Bragança had their palace, which still towers over the tight streets of the city's ancient core. From there we cycled to Ponte de Lima, an important ancient halt on the Camino. It is named after the long medieval bridge constructed on earlier Roman foundations. Despite the warning from our host that the river was not clean, we joined the throngs of tourist and pilgrims taking a dip. It will be our science experiment to see what maladies we develop.  It was the clearest dirty river I have seen. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Day 13: A few more favorite things. Porto to Vila do Conde

July 21, 2015

Ruth: The Port was lovely, and the Bacalao, as Gord mentioned, surprisingly good, but the crown of favorites so far would have to go to the pastel de nata. To say they are a dessert underestimates their wonder. Move over creme brûlée, cannoli and, yes, even chocolate, these babies are my new favourites. The puff pastry base cups the yummy egg and cream custard that has been just scorched on the top. Pair this with an espresso and your world is complete. 
I have tried to make these at home using store bought puff pastry, but I need to master the authentic ones. I have already been looking for recipes to try. 

Eating has been one of the real pleasures here. The excellent food is surpassed only by my other favorite thing in Portugal: the friendly people.  The best moments combine both. Yesterday when Gord and I entered a tiny local restaurant there were no tables free, but two Portuguese ladies motioned to us to share theirs. With some gentle encouragement in the form of a kick under the table, Gord started talking to them in Portuguese. They were from the neighbourhood, and very glad that we had found their local restaurant. They were thrilled when we ordered what they had chosen and proudly told us how inexpensive it would be. The whole experience was lovely. 

Today we cycled along the coast to Vila do Conde where we had a lovely bracing swim at the beautiful beach here. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Day12: a few of our favorite things

July 20th, 2015

Gordon: Prior to our arrival in Portugal we had read in our guide book that the Portuguese prepare bacalhão (dried, salted codfish) in 365 different ways, one for each day of the year.  However, we expected that this was a relic of the past, and that they would be eating Captain Highliner's fish sticks like the rest of us.  How wrong we were.  Bacalhão is still hugely popular.  Every supermarket has a section devoted to it (just follow your nose) and one of the choices for the dish of the day is usually some manifestation of it.  Our second misconception was that we would not like it.  This seems probable when you see the ragged, odiferous slabs stacked on the supermarket shelves.  However, we have now eaten bacalhão in four wildly different dishes, and they were all delicious.

One of the reasons that I am writing this blog is that my beautiful and talented wife has a new favourite beverage: port wine.  It started with a tour and tasting at the Taylor port house at 10 this morning, continued over our midday restaurant meal, and on into the bottle we purchased at a shop this afternoon.  And she has been quite democratic with her palate: an inexpensive chip dry, a late bottled ruby, or an aged tawny were all equally happily quaffed.  However, we are back on the bikes tomorrow, heading away from Porto, so there is every chance that we can dry Ruth out.  If not, I'm afraid that future blogs may be written in rhyming couplets, or possibly set to music, which were among her suggestions this evening.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Day 11: Albergaria a Velha on the coastal route to Porto 80km

July 19, 2015
Gordon: Our reliable friend Pocket Earth found an excellent route for us today.  It has a feature that allows a route to be developed with minimal change in elevation, which is a real boon for cyclists.  The route suggested for today's ride into Porto was 15 km longer than the most direct route, but it took us through the flat area along the coast.  Not only was the ride a pretty pastiche of small towns, dunes, and pine and eucalyptus forests but more than 40 km of it was on a cycle path.   The coastal area is clearly a playground for the urban middle class, and we saw hundreds of cyclists, runners, and walkers.

The end of our ride brought us past the popular, 15 km long, Gaia beach.  After we turned the corner to head up the Douro, we continued to follow a waterfront cycle path and road right into the historic centre of Porto.  From the water's edge it is a stunning sight, with the old city rising steeply on either side of the river.

After checking into our beautiful room at the Poet's Inn we went in search of our daily highlight: the prato do dia (menu of the day).  The vocabulary for food is specialized, but our knowledge is slowly growing.  We ordered a bacalhão, arroz do pato (rice with duck) and, to up the calorie count, a single order of "papas" with something, which we assumed was some sort of plate of fries.  A few moments later the waiter slammed down a bowl of dark and granular mush in front of me.  It was dusted with cumin and tasted delicious, rather like a finely ground chilli.  We assumed it was a variation on rice with duck.  It was only when the waiter brought another dish that was clearly rice with duck that we realized that the first dish was the "papas".  On our departure the chef asked if we had enjoyed the papas, clearly impressed that we had ordered it.  He said it was a mixture of blood, chicken, flour and spices.  We have added it to our dining vocabulary, as I hope we have an opportunity to enjoy it again.  

Friday, July 17, 2015

Day 8 & 9 Ainsão - Conimbriga - Coimbra

July 17, 2015
The ride from Ansião to Coimbra included a stop at the Roman site of Conimbriga.  They have a very impressive collection of mosaics from the remains of a number of villas. From there we parted company with the Camino trail in search of a paved road for the last leg of the day. So far we have been primarily following the Camino route with only a few detours. 

 A sculpture curiously named, "Size Matters"

Our "rest" day in Coimbra has given us a chance to exercise different leg muscles as we tromp around this hilly old university town. Coimbra is one of the oldest universities in Europe and its campus is a Unesco world heritage site.  It feels like a very old place, partly because of the buildings but also because the students wear academic gowns to attend classes.  We are just enjoying a beer before we head out to listen to some Fado. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Day 6 & 7 Rest day in Tomar and then on to Ansião

July 15, 2015
We spent an extra day in Tomar, partly to recover from our exertions during Disco Inferno, but mostly to visit the Templar Castle and the Convento de Cristo. This is a fabulous sight. We even violated our rule of not spending more than two hours gawking at a monument, museum or art gallery. The castle, built in the 12th century, was the Portuguese headquarters of the Knights Templar. 

The Tomar Hostel was an excellent place to meet with pilgrims from all over. To a person, they are all experienced Camino junkies like ourselves. With the long stages on this route walkers need to have the stamina to walk over 30 kms on at least some days. 

Today we had a beautiful ride, mostly on tiny paved roads winding through olive orchards and pretty villages. Towards the end of the day we were coasting down one of the nicest descents I have ever experienced.  Unfortunately that five star ride was took us in the wrong direction. Some local comedians, or a hungry cab driver, painted several kilometres of yellow arrows back towards the town we had come from. Our 46 km day became a 62km one. 

Now it is 7:18 in the evening and we are sitting on a bench in the town square of Ansião. We are staying at the lovely Residential Adega Tipica that has a warm welcome and special price for pilgrims. After our three course pilgrim feast we were presented with a bill of 50€ for our lovely ensuite room, dinner and breakfast. Gord said, "God I love this country!"

Monday, July 13, 2015

Day 5 Fatima to Tomar

July 13th, 2015
Fatima to Tomar 35km
The day began with a lovely ride through the hills and an encounter with a medieval castle, and ended with Gordon and I shaking our booties in a disco flash mob on our street in Tomar. 

We delayed our arrival in Tomar to miss a festival when accommodation is all booked up and 600,000 visitors flood the streets to see a procession of maidens carrying bread and flower towers on their heads. It only happens every four years and it ended yesterday.  The town is still lavishly decorated with paper flowers and orange trees.  We will spend an extra day here to rest and see all the historic sites. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Day 4: Alcobaça -Batalha - Fatima

July 12, 2015
Alcobaça -Batalha -  Fatima 44km
The most important pilgrimage in Portugal is not to the tomb of Saint James in Santiago but to Fatima. Here pilgrims wearing yellow reflective vests walk through the street led by a singing Priest with a megaphone.  My aunt Joe, one of my most devout Catholic relatives, came here on a trip that also included a visit to Lourdes.

Fatima is where the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children each month between May and October in 1917.  Two of the children, now beatified, died of influenza a couple of years later.  The third became a nun and lived until a decade ago.

The Sanctuary square recalls of St Peter's square with room for several thousand.  We watched a few pilgrims approaching the Sanctuary on their knees. Most carried candles to light at the raging candle bonfire. Others carried wax replicas of feet, hands or hearts to ask for healing. Gord scattered some of his mother's ashes and lit a candle for her. The fire is so big he singed his arm hair doing it. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Day 2 Vila Franca de Xira to Santarem 61km & Day 3 Santarem to Alcobaça 59km

July 11, 2015
Ruth: Not all kilometres are equal
Two days riding with completely different effort spent. 

Day 2 Vila Franca de Xira to Santarem 61km
This was an easy ride along pretty farmer's lanes following the yellow arrows the whole way with only one climb up to Santarem at the end.

Day 3 Santarem to Alcobaça 59km 
We are taking a slight detour off the Camino to visit the Monasteries of Alcobaça , Batalha and the Pilgrimage shrine at Fatima. 
We decided to go against our host's advice and take a more direct route across a national park.  The ride started out beautifully, winding along through olive groves and little villages. When we left our quiet road, to do a section of the national highway it also was lovely with hardly any traffic. It seduced us into choosing it over our pre planned pocket maps route and would cut off 5kms. The pocket maps route has an option to filter out big hills on their cycling routes. Oh no what did we do!!! The national highway climbed and climbed up over the highest ridge in the region.  I am so tired this one finger typing is almost too much. 

Gordon:  We have come to Alcobaça to visit the monastery in town, which has Unesco world heritage status.  It was constructed in fulfilment of a promise by the King of Portugal if he was successful in pushing the Moors out of Santarém in 1147.  The monastery was built as a large complex by the Cistercians; in its day it reputedly had 999 monks saying mass continuously in shifts.

The austere but beautiful church prominently displays the tombs of Pedro, a king, and his lover / possible wife Inês de Castro.  For political reasons, Pedro's father did not approve of Inês.  When Pedro's first wife died, and he refused to remarry anyone but Inês, Pedro's father ordered her assassination.  No doubt Christmases in the royal castle were a little awkward thereafter.  Pedro later hunted down a couple of the assassins and had their hearts ripped out because of the damage they had done to his.  When he ascended to the throne he allegedly had the body of Inês exhumed and ordered his courtiers to kiss her decayed hand.  After his death, the tombs were arranged symmetrically in either transept of the church, so that Inês would be the first person that Pedro would see on Judgement Day.  All in all, a story worthy of a Greek tragedy.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Day 1 Lisbon to Vila Franca de Xira 44km

July 9, 2015

Although we loved Lisbon it is delightful to be in a small town. We are staying at the DP Hostel, which makes Gordon very happy because we are only paying 25€ for a tiny double room with ensuite. While we are talking about costs, our multi course lunch, including beer and dessert (the incomparable pastel de nata) was 17€ for both of us. 

The off road portion of the camino was very rideable today. Most of the route followed the Tejo on a series of bike paths, farm lanes and single lane tracks. My measure of a great city is one that you can cycle in and out of all on bike paths! We only saw three Pilgrims today and two of them are at our hotel tonight.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lisbon and preparing for the Camino Portuguese

July 8, 2015
Ruth: Gordon found his voice today!  He has been speaking Portuguese almost as a local, well at least to my ears. I am pleased that I have enough vocabulary to understand simple exchanges, and to complement people on their excellent pastries.

Gord: Yesterday we took a tram out to Belem.  This is a suburb at the mouth of the Tejo, and the historic departure point for ships during the Age of Discovery.  Commemorating this period, and all the profits it generated, is the Unesco designated Torre de Belem.  This year is the 500th anniversary of the construction of this defensive structure.  While we had seen pictures of the tower, and expected to find its Manueline style excessively decorative, we were quite taken with its whimsical, organic flourishes.  Nearby is the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, also Unesco designated.  We were charmed by its airy, fantastical cloister as well.  Both Camoes, the national epic poet, and Vasco de Gama, whose groundbreaking voyage to India was the subject of Camoes' epic poem, are interred in the Mosteiro.

Tomorrow we begin the Camino Portuguese. Our bikes are assembled and appear to be undamaged and in working order. We picked up our credencials at the Cathedral in Lisbon and walked the first few kilometres of the route through town.

Monday, July 6, 2015

First Days in Lisbon: Portuguese for Beginners

July 6, 2015
The best way to get over jet lag is to have a wonderful place to explore. Yesterday we arrived at our hotel at around noon and then hit the streets of Lisbon to get our bearings. What a fabulous place. After a great meal in the market we walked all over town stopping for a nap and then up and out for a tram ride and another walk. Our first day ended with a fado concert in the square next door to our Guesthouse the Boho Cais do Sodre. So far everything  including our accommodation is exceeding our expectations,which were very high to begin with. 

After our second day of food, music and exploring, we have had a number of opportunities to try to communicate in Portuguese. Gord and I began learning Portuguese with  Duolingo almost a year ago.  I started my lessons with great enthusiasm but when I accidentally forgot to do a lesson on my thirtieth consecutive day, I lost my streak count and my motivation. Today is Gord's 323rd consecutive day of study, and according to the Duolingo program he is 55% fluent. Translate that into down on the street communication and that means that whenever I want to say something in Portuguese I have a walking , but not talking, translator beside me. Yes, as in all languages,  I am the one who wants to flap my gums more than most, and especially more than Gord. In his words, "no one wants to talk to an aging troll." My beloved has neglected to notice that I have aged too and as Shakespeare said, "my goods are not for all markets".