A Warm Welcome in Portugal
Mid December, 2009. We took the ferry across the river that forms the northerly latitudinal boarder of Portugal and Spain in the dark and found a fantastic camping spot on a boardwalk on a small island in the town of Vila Praia de Âncora. It was a breezy night and some fisherman were casting just below us on the beach, and behind us there was an enormous, lit-up cross on the hill overlooking the water and a soccer match going on to the south, out of my earshot. Each small town that we rode through that night had been gloriously decorated for Christmas with the most lovely layouts of lights permeating the main square and streets, while no one seemed to use lights on their own houses as is done in the United States.
The truckers were not about to give me any space if they didn’t have to, so, finally, after an hour of anxiety and frustration…
The next day’s ride saw us to Porto, in magnificently warm and sunny weather. I knew I that I loved Portugal right off the bat when the aroma of grilling chicken and seafood all but knocked me senseless with delight as I passed through town after town, sometimes bouncing along cobblestoned roads and finally navigating through the sprawling city of Porto. Randall and I met up at the bombeiros station, home of the volunteer firefighters, and the rest was adequate there, if not interrupted somewhat. From the astonishingly fine old city center and fairytale riverfront (both UNESCO World Heritage sites for good reason) we passed on to Fatima to add another star to my list of pilgrimage shrines. It took three days and another stay with the bombeiros to arrive at the holy place, in which time we were separated, and I spent a night at the pilgrim’s refuge there. One of the roads on the way was sort of a truck route with a heavy flow of traffic and no shoulder. The truckers were not about to give me any space if they didn’t have to, so, finally, after an hour of anxiety and frustration, I pulled off the road and used my computer to make a new route. It was more mountainous but the weather was fine and sunny that day, though cooler at the higher altitude.
and the view from there a sweeping panorama of the Teja river.
Another lovely day of riding saw me through a the Serras D’Aire E Candeeiros national park on the way to Lisbon. It was just getting dark and I had been on another shoulder-free highway for much of the day when I arrived at Azambuja, a town 50k to the east of Lisbon. I did not savor the idea of riding into the large capital city in the dark on a busy road but I strapped on my light resignedly and rebuked myself for getting such a late start. Then, a lightbulb switch on above my head (and it was not my helmet light). Why not hop on the commuter train into the city? Bam! 1.70 euros later I was aboard the train, then deposited less than one kilometer from our host’s flat! And what an aboad it was! Kirsten was a travel-savvy biology professor originally from the Midwest, and her flat was located in the old Morish Quarter with its absurdly narrow, winding cobblestone streets and charming atmosphere, and the view from there a sweeping panorama of the Teja river. All three of us went out for dinner at 11pm, to one of the Brazillian meat restaurants, where they serve a tantalizing array of grilled boar, ribs, steak, chicken and tapioca buns infused with cheeze until you are ready to stumble out the door in a daze! Three more days we stayed with Kirsten and mused about where the two of us would spend our Christmas. Perhaps in our tents, in the spirit of Bethlehem?
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