2006 Portugal

Day 1 – Amsterdam to Lisbon to Guincho – 32 miles

We didn’t make a lot of distance on the bikes today, but it seemed like a really long day.

The fun started last night, getting everything packed.  It all fit, but we were likely to be over the allowed weight for the flight.  Then when Dave called to arrange for a taxi van to take us to the airport in the morning, they told him that you have to book 3 days in advance.  He could call again in the morning but there were no guarantees.  So we came up with a back up plan – we would strap the bikes boxes to the car and drive slowly to Central Station and then take the train from there to the airport.  We tried not to think about the fact that it was supposed to rain and we have no rack on the car and no rope or straps – at least it was a plan!

We got up at 4AM and started calling taxis.  What do you know, they said they could send a van right away.  We hustled all the bags and bike boxes down stairs. We waited for a half hour, no van.  Dave calls again and turns out his Dutch let him down.  They thought he said a different street.  Our luck holds as they have another van and after spelling the street name this time, the taxi arrives in a few minutes.

Unfortunately the taxi isn’t really a van – more of a big station wagon. The taxi driver takes one look at the bikes and says no way.  We negotiate a bit with the driver, and he puts all the seats down in the van and we can just get the bikes in.  The bags fill the last few cracks.  Only minor detail now was where to sit.  The driver and I sat in the front bucket seats.  Dave had to squeeze in behind my seat, sitting on the floor.  Who needs a seatbelt when you’re not sitting in a seat anyway?  We made it to the airport and checked in with time to spare.  Just a slightly stressful start of the trip.

The flight to Lisbon was uneventful, Dave slept the whole way.  I did my part by worrying about putting the bikes back together.  We arrived about 9 AM and started working the bikes.  Three hours later we were finally ready to ride.  Dave had to negotiate with the left luggage folks in order to leave the bike boxes at the airport, but that was easy after the taxi situation earlier in the day.

Putting the bikes together at Lisbon airport

On the way out, we stopped at the tourist information centre (tourismo) and got some good info on where to get gas for the stove, some groceries and the best route out of the city.  Finally, at 12:30, the riding part of the day began.  We only had to ride a short distance to the Vasco de Gamma shopping mall, where there was a sports store that we could get the gas and a grocery store.  Dave liked the name of the mall and took a picture.  Little did we know that every other building seemed to be named after good old Vasco.  By the time we got our supplies it was 1:30 and we really ready to ride for the day.

The ‘Vasco de Gama’ shopping mall

The tourist office recommended that we drop down to the riverfront and follow it out to the ocean.  The rest of the day we followed the Rio Tejo river, staying on N6 (National Highway 6) the whole day.  There was quite a bit of traffic but we could generally take a lane.

The first monument stop of the day was The Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries).  Dave knew about this from a paper he’d written about Portugal in 2nd grade, of all things.  It ended up being a real challenge to get to.  We were on the wrong side of a divided highway with no obvious way to get across.  We asked a couple locals who told us about an underpass but we could not find it.  Finally after wandering back and forth several times we discovered some steep stairs and a tunnel.  We had to carry the bikes down and back up, one by one, wow, they are heavy.  The statue was pretty cool, almost worth the stairs.

The Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries)

We stayed on the wrong side of the road after leaving the statue, trying to avoid the traffic.  This worked for about a mile before the road turned into a real goat track, highway on the right, fishermen on rocks to the left.  We couldn’t really look around much as we had to pay attention to avoid all the rocks – single track riding on the first day with loaded touring bikes – good one Dave.

Eventually we made our way back to the N6.  Traffic was now getting worse so we tried a few paths on the river side again.  They never really went anywhere so eventually we just gave up and rode the N6.  Lunch finally came when we stopped in Estorile.  It was 4:30 by the time Dave found a nice public square with several restaurants with outside tables.  We were hungry and ordered two pizzas.  They brought out a great plate of appetizers that we thought were part of the deal as we hadn’t ordered them.  Turns out that they do this in a lot of restaurants in Portugal.  You can refuse them but we didn’t know, if you eat them, you pay for them.  They were tasty so it was worth it.  Of course this meant we couldn’t finish the pizza – that meant we had leftovers for dinner!

After lunch we had a few ups and down along N6, and the traffic eventually lessened.  As we got closer to our intended destination we found a bike path that was a nice relief.  We finally ran out of river and hit the Atlantic Ocean, turned north and rode along it until Cascias.  From there we had a headwind, then eventually rode up one last steep hill to Guincho and a nice empty campground.  It was after the busy season so we got our pick of spots.  Dinner was warmed up pizza.  We were looking forward to our first night in our new tent.  After the 4AM start (3 AM Portugal time), we had no trouble turning lights out shortly after dark.

Ah, the joys of camping

Day 2  – Guincho to Ericeira 32 miles

We woke up early after a good night’s sleep.  The tent seemed to work well, with lots of room.  The campground was pretty quite in the morning as we had oatmeal and coffee for breakfast.  We stopped at the campground store, got some fresh water and were on the road by 9:15.

Dave’s bike had a bad case of the wobblies this morning for some reason.  We stopped several times trying to figure it out.  Eventually Dave tried my suggestion of shifting weight around in his back bags and that seemed to fix it.

We climbed almost from the start, and it was a pretty good hill.  There were lots of cyclists out for a Sunday ride.  Most passed us as we climbed on our touring bikes but they were all very friendly and we got lots of thumbs up.  There were also lots of motorcycles – they obviously liked the twisting coastal road.  They were very noisy and fast.  Bicycles are better.

We were going to ride out to Cabo da Roca, the western most point of continental Europe but it was clear that was where all the motorcycles were heading so we instead opted for a quiet right turn towards Sintra.  We’d read about local road 247-3 on the internet and were not disappointed.  It was steep but very quiet, and lined with forest and rock walls.  We took a break at a view-point and could see Cabo da Roca.

Near the top of 247-3, we ran into a group of cyclists stopped by the roadside.  They all looked very fit and were on racing bikes.  They said that they were out for a 200km ride that day, or at least it sounded like that was what they were saying in Portuguese.  We asked for directions but had trouble as none of them could speak English.  Eventually, we figured out the way – we headed down a steep hill.  There were lots of people hiking up, plus a few stragglers of the bicycle group walking up as well.  There were some great views of Sintra on the way down; we could see the castles.

View of Sintra in the distance

We made our way to the town, wandered a bit and eventually found a little café outside the train station.  We had great fresh made ham and cheese sandwiches and our first Portuguese café coffee – both were fantastic.

From Sintra it was only 20k to Ericeira.  The road was pretty good, flat most of the way, which was a nice change from the morning of climbing.  Of course there was one big hill right at town.  Not many towns in Portugal are built on the bottom of the valleys.

Ericeira was not an attractive town though it did have some nice views.  It seemed to be made up mostly of condos and there were lots of new ones going up.  Not many folks because it was after season.  We followed signs to the campground – the route was a bit torturous and by-passed the town centre.  By the time we got to the campground we realized that the climb up above town to loop around to the far side was just extra bonus, to keep trucks off the main street.  We could have ridden through town.  We are staying at another big, but empty, campground.  We made tortellini for dinner, had a ½ bottle of wine and watched the sun set on the Atlantic.  It was a nice, relaxing evening.

View from Ericeira

Tomorrow we have a longer day and will try to reach Obidos – hope we can make it.

Day 3 – Ericeira to Obidos 42 miles

Didn’t sleep too well last night.  The campground was too light.  Dave even stole a garbage bag and blocked the nearest light.  It helped but there were many more lights.  The few folks in the campground turned out to be young surfer types.  They seemed to be traipsing around late into the night and early morning.  Finally got to sleep then an hour before dawn, Dave woke up insisting that it was 1 hour later than it really was.  His watch somehow got messed up.  He finally got out of bed, walked all the way down to the guard’s house and found out that his watch was wrong.  At least it was quiet while he was gone!

We left camp around 8:15 and rode along the coast.  As the sun came over the hill we found a nice overlook on the ocean and what looked like a good surfing beach – Empa.  We stopped for photos.

View at Empa

Empa

From there we had a couple tough up and down climbs getting a cross coastal streams.  One long climb we ended up with a big truck behind us that was going just our speed.  It was great as he blocked all the other cars until we got to the top.

We rode along N247 until a bike path appeared out of nowhere at Santa Cruz.  I think this is another one of those places where the summer is much busier.  No bikes on the path except us.  It went on for 5ks.

We had morning tea at Porto Novo at a nice roadside rest, down at ocean level.  From there we had a very steep short climb.  This wasn’t the steepest climb of the day but I kind of panicked when I got too close to the edge.  I had to get off and walk.  Dave made it up, but very slowly.

We went through our second town called Ribemar, only 20ks after the last Ribemar.  Not sure what the story there was.  For lunch we made it to Louriniha and found a bakery for lunch.  We got them to make us more nice fresh ham and cheese sandwiches.  By now, we knew the coffee would be good as well.  They didn’t let us down.

After lunch, Dave found some more of the quite “white” roads on the map.  We went through the sleepy village of Sobval, took a wrong turn, but eventually figured it out.  In time, we found our way to the other end of this white road section, the town of Fontelas.  I think Dave is often more relieved than I am when we get to the end of the white sections.  I don’t think he lets on when he is not 100% sure of where we are.  And here, there is no one who speaks English (not surprisingly, of course – we should have studied a bit more Portuguese).

In the hills near Fontelas

The last white road of the day was probably not necessary.  It was hard to tell on the map but it looked like freeway only in the valley to Obidos.  Instead, we took a white road around, make that over a big hill.  We didn’t walk but it was steeper and longer than the morning hill.  Plus by now it was darn hot.  Later we found out that the freeway had a frontage road.  At least there was no traffic.

On the way down the hill, we had a great view of our destination, Obidos.  We had a nice downhill getting there.  This town has been here for over 1000 years and some 800 years ago it was given as a gift from the King of Portugal to his wife, the Queen.  Not much has changed inside the city walls in 800 years.

Obidos

We found a nice B&B to stay in, with an interior courtyard to park the bikes in.  We had dinner at a local restaurant, couldn’t really read the menu but the food was great.  Wine was not too bad other.  Breakfast is included in the morning, which should be fun.

Obidos

Picturesque views in Obidos

Menu items

Tomorrow we are aiming for Arrimal where there is supposed to be camping.

Day 4  – Obidos to Porto de Moss 38 miles

We woke up to cloudy skies.  But breakfast was even better than we had hoped.  Lots of nice baked goods and of course, some great Portuguese coffee.

Reluctantly heading out of Obidos

We were on the road by 9AM.  The ride out of Obidos was flat for quite a while and we got some good miles in.  It kept trying to rain, but never really did.  Lots cooler than the last few days.

We rode through Caldas Da Raicha on N8, then had a big climb to avoid riding on the freeway to Alcobaca.  After the climb we had some nice rolling terrain until we came upon a detour.  None of the cars seemed to take the detour but we didn’t know what else to do.  The detour road was flat for a bit then it turned left and went straight up hill.  No, make that a wall.  It was not long but so steep that both of us had to walk.  I don’t think that Dave has ever done that before.

We had lunch at Alcobaca – more fresh ham and cheese sandwiches and of course great coffee.  After lunch we rode uphill again to the top of a plateau.  On the top there were lots of brick and terracotta tile factories.  No fancy stuff here, just the basic stuff that they make buildings out of.  And lot of them.  Next time you see “made in Portugal” on something terracotta, think Alcobaca.

From here we headed to the Pedreiras campground.  (not the Arrimal campground, because at breakfast we learned it was closed for the season).  As per normal, the campground was at the top of a steep long hill.  It looked like a nice campground, but the gate was locked and it didn’t look like it had been opened in some time.  There was a note that said that they were closed until 2:30.  Since it was 2:10, we took a break and waited.  No sign of anyone at 2:35 so Dave called the number.  Sure enough, they were closed for the year.

So back down the hill and on to Port de Mos.  We found a small hotel right on the town square.  We did some washing and wandered town a bit.  We tried to go to dinner where the motel owner’s mother recommended.  Her English was about as good as our Portuguese so we couldn’t find the place she sent us.  We ended up at a place from Lonely Planet that was pretty weird.  Dave got us some sandwiches that had various fried bits of unknown origin for filling.  You wouldn’t eat that every night, even in Portugal.

Day 5  –Porto de Mos to Alpiarca 42 miles

It stormed quite a bit last night.  We could hear the rain coming down very hard on the street outside.  It was still raining and chilly when we went down for breakfast.  Breakfast was the usual, bread, meat and cheese and more coffee.  You’d better like ham and cheese sandwiches if you are going to Portugal.

We still had wet laundry hanging out in on the roof patio, under cover at least.  When we went up to pick it up, we were pleasantly surprise to find it all dry and folded.  The owner’s mom had done it for us.

By the time we got packed up, the rain had stopped and there was some scattered sun.  Even some big patches of blue sky.  We had a big climb out of town with some truck traffic until we passed the local marble quarry.  The climb was perfect for removing the chill.  We weren’t cold long.  Nearing the top, Dave forced us onto another one of his famous white roads, towards a town called Bizerra.  I was not up for another detour but we did enjoy the white roads more.

The road went through the Sierra de Porto de Mos National Park.  The landscape was very interesting.  There was evidence of some fires from 2003, but not many trees anyway.  Lots of rock walls that crisscrossed every field and many of the hillsides.  There didn’t appear to be any crops and few animals in the fields, just lots of little separate paddocks formed by rock walls.  The actual village was almost deserted.  Lots of dogs, some really run down homes, and some very nice new homes.  No people.  Kind of eerie.

Rock walls

We climbed for quite a ways, including the morning climb from Porto de Mos.  Eventually we reached a pass where we were in the full sun but still a bit cool.  We took some pictures and headed down what had become now a dirt road.  The pavement climbing was very rough, the dirt much smoother.  Dave did lots of mapping checking.  I think he thought we were lost a couple times, though of course he would not admit it (he has many good points that far outweight the slight negatives..;-).

We eventually found our way down the mountain and back to the normal road.  We enjoyed the downhill even more as we had a very strong tail wind.

We stopped in Mendija at a café for morning tea and coffee.  They had some chocolate cakey thing as their only bread.  It looked weird but tasted great.  From here is slight downhill and more tailwinds.  We spent extended time in the big chainrings for the first time on the trip.  As we descended, more trees and even Aussie-like eucalypt trees.  The smell reminded us of many a ride in the parks of Oz.

Lovely morning tea spot

We stopped for lunch in Santarim.  Guess what, another ham and cheese sandwich at the park near the city square.  I should mention that most of the ham is sliced thin off a seasoned hind quarter sitting open at the cafes.  It is very tasty, one of the real treats of Portugal.

Santarim

After lunch we wandered into town, took a look around and hit the tourisimo.   We were not really sure where we would ride the next few days but decided that night to head towards the campsite 15 kms away in Alpiarca.

The campground was very weird.  I don’t think these inland campgrounds get much business after September.  They have lots of sites with permanent trailers, probably over 100.  But on the night we were there we were pretty sure that only 3 other people stayed there.  We found a spot off to the side.  Nice grass, no tables of chairs.  We pinched a couple chairs from one of the empty 100 sites.  There were lots of cork trees in the park.  They skin them every 5-7 years.  These had been skinned in the past year or two.  Where they had not been cut, you could see how the cork grew.

Cork trees

It was a quite night, if a bit spooky.  We decided to ride back to Santarim tomorrow to do some more sightseeing.  We’ll then have a rather longish day into Lisbon on Friday and Saturday to be tourist in Lisbon.

Day 6 –Alpiarca to Santarim 24 miles

We slept in a bit as we had a short day planned.  Dave even made two cups of coffee.  We didn’t get on the road until 10:30 (yes, we did return the borrowed chairs as well).  Since we were not camping anymore on the trip, we gave our extra stove fuel to the other couple in the park, two Brits in a Chevy van with New Jersey plates in Portugal (sure, that makes sense).

We took the long-cut on more of Dave’s white roads, very nice morning ride.  We went through lots of vineyards – probably only days since the grapes had all been picked.  We arrive in Santarim at 12:30 and made our way back to the tourismo for room recommendations.  They helped us find a pension right around the corner and with luck, they had one room left.  Twin beads, private bathroom down the corridor but only 35 euros.

We took showers and headed off to be tourist.  Unfortunately, there was a strike so many of the museums were closed but there were still plenty of 1000 year old churches to see.  Many were damaged in the 1750 earthquake that ended the golden era of Portugal.  Of course, the churches all were rebuilt bigger and better.  Santarim is built on the top of hill, with the old town centre mostly car free narrow streets with lots of shops, some of the big famous brands.  Just proving that you don’t have to have a mall, with a giant parking lot and major road infrastructure to attract customers.

Tiled houses in Santarim

We stumbled across a group of young kids in uniforms, with some in pyjamas.  It looked like some sort of underclassmen hazing but we couldn’t be sure.  This is a big college town but when you can’t understand what folks are saying it’s hard to know what’s going on.

For dinner, we went to a place that the tourismo had recommended.  They warned us that it had a bullfighting motif and served lots of meat (just in case we were vegetarians).  It turned out to be a restored tavern and very much a locals joint.  We were again the only English speakers and there were no English menus.  Most of the patrons were older men with tweed berets.  They all knew each other.  We had an out of the way table where we could watch but not interfere.  Ordering was a real treat.  We couldn’t order anything in common language (except wine).  We managed to order some starters and a main, or at least we thought.  We were confused on the main so the waiter went to the kitchen and brought out a huge hunk of raw steak and said “ok?”.  It was too much but we didn’t know what else to do.  Eventually, salad, veggies, chips, a huge steak and a large carafe of house wine found their way to our table.  Everything was fantastic.

Paying the bill was the next challenge.  They had changed staff by the time we finish and it didn’t appear they had any records, I think they worked off the honour system.  The bartender made a list, put prices by all of them and we paid our 16 euros.  Probably the best meal we had in Portugal.  Certainly one of the most entertaining.

Bullring

Up early for our push back to Lisbon.  We had to call quite a few hotels before finding a room for Friday and Saturday night.

Day 7  –Santarim  to Lisbon 60 miles

We were up at 7AM, had the bikes packed and were at the bake/coffee shop round the corner just as it opened at 8AM.  Fresh pastry and more Portuguese coffee, great way to start the day.

Cafe for Breakfast

On the way of town we stopped at the city market.  Lots of fresh local meat/fish/veggies and another tiled building.  We’d spend a lot of time here if we lived in this town.

We rode the N3 out of town and it was very busy.  Dave found another white road at Vale de Santarim that turned out to be much quieter.  Very flat, along out old friend the Rio Tejo.  Nothing but farmland and the occasional village.  30ks later we ended up back on the N3.  The traffic was just as busy but there was a shoulder.  Dave convinced me to try one more white road which turned out to be one to many, this one dead ended.  We had to backtrack to the N3 and put up with the traffic.

Around 11:30, we stopped for lunch a little town with a brand new square.  There was a little café nearby where Dave managed to get us, guess what, more ham and cheese sandwiches.  I should point out that in addition to the nice ham, the cheese was always good, plus we always got fresh baked rolls.  So, really, there was little to complain about with our ham and cheese routine.  Of course we polished the meal off with one more coffee, perfect.

Lunch spot for – you guessed it – ham and cheese sandwiches

From lunch we stayed on the N10 all the way to Lisbon.  It was very developed all the way.  No more Portugal sleepy farm villages here.  There was a nice wide shoulder so it wasn’t too bad, other than the noise.  Once we reach Lisbon city limits, we dropped down to the road along the river that we took last weekend.  It had more traffic during the week.  Our hotel was right in the middle of the city but Dave did a good job navigating us right to it.  Our room is ridiculously nice compared to the rest of the trip.  Long day but a nice way to end it.

Lisbon alleyway

View from Lisbon tram

For dinner we hit a spot that Lonely Planet had recommended.  Another winner and perfect finish to the trip.

 

Lisbon doors

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