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Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Portugal. It's all new to me.

Gone and done it. Decided against France this year. I was thinking of tackling Spain but people have said how great Portugal is. Looks a bit hilly to me. I've also found out that signposting is non-existant or simply lies. Should be interesting if nothing else. So I'm booked for leaving this troubled Isle late September for pastures new. Flight arrives at 9pm in Porto. Out of customs, bike put together, leaves me standing , alone and confused in the dark, in a strange country wondering where to sleep at about 11pm. So nothing new really. Didn't work out quite like that.
Day 1.
 Looks good, but inland it’s hilly. Avoid Lisbon! So say the experts. Okay seems reasonable, major city and all. Best route. Down the coast from Porto. Turn left before Lisbon and head inland for a slow ride down to Faro. Twelve days to cover 450 miles including a few days off and it looks promising. Something different. Easy stuff. Don’t you just love the confidence? If I’d known then etc.
                My mate is up for it but he wants to be away longer. His idea is to start from Bilbao and meet me in Porto. Okay Henry. Deal. Go for it! Henry wants to camp so he’s taking the full Monty. Me? No way. I’ve read B&Bs are cheap and plentiful. I’ll take my silk liner and a foil blanket for emergencies but that’s it.
               Flight is b booked from Liverpool and return from Faro to Manchester. Henry is now out there and e-mailing me regularly from his route. Weather is scorching I’m told and hills are killers. He seems to be on a lot of buses and trains as well. Oh and he’s sending heavy camping stuff back to the UK. My kind of cycling this. Avoid the pain at all costs.
                   Departure day for me arrives and my long-suffering wife drops me at Liverpool airport. It’s a sad goodbye [big soft me] and I trundle across to departures with my big cardboard box. I sadly look back. There is a woman skipping towards my car humming a happy tune. She looks like my wife but that can’t be. My wife would be desolate and in tears. Still. It does bear a strong resemblance…. No. Can’t be. I’m off to check-in. Talk to a guy in the cattle Pen at the gate. He’s off to Portugal to busk his way around. No return plans. Smells a bit iffy but a nice guy. They tale his guitar off him and put it in the hold. Amazing who you meet when travelling.
                    I’m installed in a window seat next to two huge ladies who are in love with their mobile phones. I think they are texting each other because they are more than two inches apart. “Hi Janice I’m just taking off.” “Hey so am I, Got a weirdo bloke sitting next to me though, wearing funny shoes”. You know what I mean.
                   Never raise their heads from the screens. No conversation with each other or me. Sod this! As soon as the seatbelt lights are off, I’m squeezing past their plump knees and grabbing a set of empty seats opposite for my 6’2” frame. Why do airlines do that? Cram you all together when the planes half empty? Oh well. Comfy flight for me.
               I find the bike box hiding in a corner of Porto airport, keeping company with a Guitar case.
                Henry is having a few rest days in Porto and has booked a studio apartment in the city. He has used the Metro into the airport to give me a lift with putting the bike together as it is now after 9pm and I don’t know the Metro system. We soon assemble the bike and head out onto the Tram. The bike is accepted on the trams there and we take seats next to my bike, as it’s sometimes a rough old ride. At one point I end up with a beautiful young Portuguese lady on my lap as she is thrown off balance by the tram. I’ve had worst days.
             We are soon in the city and I experience the Portuguese cobbles for the first time and the very steep hills. It’s a nice city apartment, but small with one of those double beds that fold up into the wall. Double beds! We’re friendly but not that way. I make a bed from the settee cushions and bed down on the floor of the kitchen area. Earplugs in to hide Henry’s snores and other unmentionable noises and drift away.
 Big day tomorrow.

Day 2

                       I didn’t sleep that well. My bed kept sliding along the kitchen floor in the night. In the end I had to move the cushions and jam them up against the fridge. Luxury living eh?
                        Henry has got some decent food in for breakfast and we feast well.  I’m sitting enjoying my morning brew when I’m suddenly thumped on the head! The double bed behind me has unfolded out of the wall and whacked me one. “Yea” Henry says, “Catch is a bit faulty on that”. Really. I’m awake now!  Once showered and packed, it’s down to the street. Last night it was quiet when I entered the apartment. When I open the street door it is like world war three has started! The noise and traffic is incredible! There is a hospital across the road with only one entrance and vehicles are fighting to enter and leave at the same time. Utter chaos. The road is completely blocked. Horns blaring people gestulating at one another. A policeman is parked by the kerb, completely ignoring the comic scene.
                         We have no choice to get on our way but to ride down the pavement, weaving between pedestrians. The cop does not even blink. He’s not interested. As soon as possible we turn off and head downhill to the river. I’ve seen a cycle path on Google Earth that runs on the other side of the river and also a video of a guy leaving Porto on a bike. I took note that he enters a tunnel to reach the other side. The streets down to the river are really steep and badly cobbled. That steep, that the rear of the bike is trying to overtake you and throw you off, even though I have a heavy Carradice saddlebag attached. I’ve not had a chance to set the bike up properly so elect to dismount and walk the bike down the worst bits. I get a thumbs up from a Portuguese couple panting their way upwards. 

                        Once alongside the river we spot the tunnel and jostle with the traffic to the other side, where we immediately turn right and where we find the cycle path. Here is where we take a breather while Henry consults his Iphone. 

Henry loves his phone. I’ve got the route showing on my Garmin but Henry insists his phone is better and will not hear of consulting, or following the Garmin. This is a bone of contention between us that haunts us all the way through the tour. The £60 Garmin likes to hang about a bit while it finds satellites where the new £300 or £400 phone does it pretty instantly, but does not show the route, but still Henry goes for that and dismisses the Garmin. I let him get on with it and admire the scenery.
                       It’s a beautiful morning and we follow a lovely cycle path alongside the beach with some great tempting spots to stop for a break.  Knock a few easy flat miles out, then give in and stop for coffee. It costs less than €2 for two coffees sitting outside in the sun opposite a beach and the Atlantic Ocean. A bit different than the three quid you pay in some parts of the UK for so called coffee surrounded by litter and winos.
                    It’s addictive to ride by the side of the Atlantic but now we are finding that we are constantly leaving the road, riding down to the sea, ride along the path a bit then back to the main drag. Doing a lot of mileage for not much progress. We reluctantly have to join the main drag or we will fail to reach the nights intended destination. Wherever that is.  Ovara is a maybe, but it should be Aviero. I’m following the Garmin. Henry is following his Iphone but we seem to be heading in the same direction, so. Whatever.
                   This is easy riding. We’ve lost sight of the Atlantic now and we are rolling through small villages every few miles on a flat road. The temperature is up though and I estimate it’s about 30c. It’s ok though as we are creating our own breeze. It’s when you stop that you feel the sun burning our fair English skin. Now hunger, well starvation is starting to kick in when we spot every cyclists dream on tour. Well it’s mine. A Lidl! 
                    Don’t you just love that sign. It’s interior is laid out exactly like the one at home. Magic! Only problem they don’t do sandwiches. In France you can get great sandwiches. Shame. Anyway Bananas, apples, full of fat, pasties and a yoghurt should see me through. There are clean toilets and a tap where I can fill my water bottles. Henry is posher or more sensible/richer than me and buys bottled water. Well he’s a Southerner so what can you do?  We dine in style over the road, after looking for shade and finding it in a church square, before mounting up again for more easy riding on the EU funded roads.
                   Time is now getting on. We roll through Ovar and the road is getting busy. It’s well-surfaced, single carriageway but there are a lot of big trucks. Now these guys don’t like having to move over and the overtakes are seriously dodgy. Buses are as bad and I have to bang on the side of one to make him move over. It’s starting to get worrying and that with the temperature moving ever higher, cycling is becoming more of a game of survival. I’ve just about had enough, when one old guy almost runs me down while he is texting and changing direction at the same time. He only sees me when I knock on his windscreen. I childishly shout and rant at him but he puts his hands up and apologises.  Luckily we are near to Aviero and so turn into town to find a bed for the night and of course lose the road of death. .
                 It’s a nice town. All cobbles as usual. Venice of Portugal evidently.

We dive into a smart hotel €52 incl breakfast. Bikes are confined to the garage and we have a good room upstairs. Once settled I’m ready for a reviving brew. I’ve got this little electric element that you plug into the wall and leave in your cup to boil water. Works a treat. I plug it into the socket, drop it into the cup of water and…. Sheesshh! It’s noisy and crackling straightaway! Never known that before. Henry backs off to the other side of the room. Within a minute the water is bubbling and boiling away.  I drag the socket out of the wall and also leg it to the other side of the room. Well the lights seem to be still working, so not so bad.
                Time to go out for a meal before somebody comes knocking. We have a good meal in a Pizza place. Nice bottle of wine to go with it for €8. The meal of steak and egg is only €6 each. Not really steak as we know it but still very good and Henry does not get charged any extra for the long Portuguese hair on his plate.
                 Stroll back to the hotel along deserted streets. I decide not to make a bedtime brew. Tomorrow is another day.

 Day 3
We are down for breakfast in good time. Yey! It’s a buffet breakfast and it’s pretty good. We pile our plates and take as much as possible on board. We can put up with the funny looks from other guests as the litter of empty plates and yoghurt pots pile up. We burp out way back upstairs for our gear. It’s when we bump into a team of electricians wandering the corridor that we decide it maybe best to depart as soon as possible. I don’t think it’s the right time to try out my electric element again in here.
           It’s a nice town we are leaving. Somewhere to take your lady for a weekend as it’s quite a romantic looking place. Not for a couple of hairy bikers though and we soon find our way back to the dreaded main road. It seems pretty quiet at first and we manage a fair few miles before spotting a good spot for a brew making session. Henry has kept hold of his new stove when he sent his camping gear back to the UK. He’s quite proud of it as it’s supposed to be multi burner but we are using some sort of gel stuff. Takes a while to boil but we are not in a hurry.

               Once back on the road it’s got quite a bit busier and the trucks seem to be multiplying and getting even bigger. I stop and attach my high viz vest to the saddlebag so that it is flapping away. I’m also checking them out in my mirror and sticking my arm out as they approach to tell them to move over. It seems to work as I’m getting a bit more space but it’s hard work as sometimes they are in droves and the following trucks still veer in towards me.
               There is quite a bit of forest here and every couple of miles there is a clearing. I’m checking these out as I’m starting to need a comfort break. Just as I think I’ll turn into this next one this absolute vision of loveliness walks up the path towards me. Tall. Long dark hair, fabulous figure. I could tell that because she was wearing hot pants and a bikini top. Beautiful. She calls "Hola Senor" and I almost fall off the bike. I stutter something and pedal on. Henry behind me shouts. “ Did you see that? Wonder what she charges?” Dopey me had no idea what he means for about a minute. Then it dawns. Ladies of the night or in this case, day. That beauty is there evidently for the truckers delight. I then start to clock them every few miles along the road. Nice girls. Lovely looking and they all wave and smile. I feel sorry for them. Their pimp, who leaves them with a collapsible chair and water for the day, must drop them off. I suppose the business is done in the trucker’s cabs or with the odd motorist. A sign I suppose of the state of the countries economy. We have a conversation into whether they are Portuguese or Brazilian. Either way some, or most of them would not look out of place on the cover of some of our better magazines.
                 Oh well. Back to cycling. It’s hot, it’s dangerous and we are climbing a bit now. We are overtaken suddenly by three Portuguese racing cyclists. They are not travelling that fast and we catch them up at a roundabout where they stop and introduce themselves. Older, retired guys out for a morning ride. They agree about the road and the mad drivers, wish us well and depart their separate ways.
                   It’s time for a late Lunch. The big buffet breakfast has been worked off. We spot a row of shops with a small supermarket and café attached. Bikes leant against the café window and head inside.  Provisioned up I tie my shopping bags to saddlebag and prepare to mount up. It’s then that I notice the lady sat in the window seat staring at my shorts. You see the only shorts I feel comfy in when touring are the rude Lycra ones [my wife words, she says they are disgusting and she’s glad she’s not with me]. I think I’ve put her off her hot sausage roll. I ride off quickly before somebody has to revive her.
                   We find a spot and dine. I don’t like riding after four pm, as I like to find a place, freshening up and having a walk around before an evening meal. So we are close to our intended overnight spot and turn off the road towards the coast into Figueira da Foz. We could have gone further but the road is bisecting a motorway and we are being pushed into a four-lane road.
                   Nice and early we park up on the front and nab a bench in little square while Henry does a Booking.com thing on his magic phone. We are not sat long when this guy, hunched over almost double comes over. God love him. He must never see the sky. He’s shabbily dressed and his condition means he’s permanently looking at the ground. He's begging at people and being told to shift. feel really sorry for him. He espies Henry, probably me as well but as my beloved keeps telling me “you look a right nasty ba….d”. He stands next to Henry. Eyes down of course looking straight into Henry’s crotch with his hand held out. Henry looks at me. I ignore it. So Henry gives in and hands him his loose change. The guy examines it, never speaks, just stuff it into his pocket and shuffles off. Hilarious. I know I shouldn’t but you didn’t see Henry’s face. Just to clarify I feel terrible for the poor guy. It's Henry's face that amusing me.
                 We’ve got a booking on the magic box and head out to find the place. €30 so not expecting much. It’s a small hotel in a side street with a seemingly disinterested owner who speaks not a word of English. However his vision of loveliness daughter turns up who speaks perfect English. After we have finished string open mouthed we wipe the drool from out lips and take the bikes down the street to their garage. Unfortunately it is the father that accompanies us and we never see the goddess again.
                  It’s a nice room. I take the big gamble and plug the electric element into the shaver socket for a brew. We both stand well back; very well back while it does it’s stuff. Nothing wrong this time and it behaves and silently brings the water to the boil. Oh well. No problem.
                   Oh I’ve not mentioned. My blackberry phone has packed up. No idea why. Just stopped working. It’s my phone, my camera, my MP3. Hence lack of pictures. So crisis time. Got to head out and try to find a phone shop for a cheap phone that will take my Orange sim card. I mean they virtually give them away now in the UK. Not here! All the shops are tied into Vodaphone and all their phones are locked, plus the cheapest are about €35. So no joy with that and having tramped around the town I give up and we head out for a very nice end of day  meal in local restaurant.


Day 4-part 1. The toughest day.

                  The set breakfast the next day is rubbish. It was included in the room rate so we expected as much. What really irked though is the Portuguese guy at the next table got an extra roll than us. Yes. I was counting.
                 The owner once again walked us to the garage for our bikes. It was a big place. Massive. There were cars under dustsheets. I peeked under one and asked the guy if it was an MG. He smiled, walked over and swept the dustsheet off an immaculate 1930s MGA. Turns out he’s a car nut and he’s also got an ancient convertible Mercedes and a classic Audi. The somber guy comes alive and using my terrible Spanish we find out he owns a few cars. I don’t know how he does it on €30 a night rooms. He is reluctant to see us go now as we talk cars. Pity he didn’t knock up a better breakfast though. Might have stayed longer but I was now on the hunt for food.
                 First things first we have to get out of town and rejoin the road of death. This is a really nice place though and worth a further look sometime. There is a bridge in the distance that we need to cross but it is part of the dreaded route. I can also see a smaller bridge that appears to cross this estuary. Henry fiddles with the Iphone while I stop a guy walking along the front. “No” he explains in perfect English. “There is only one bridge and you have to climb out of the town on the busy road to join it”. Well there you go. No choice. We join the busy traffic and head out. It’s quite a climb and even more so once we join the bridge. Ever upwards but we are rewarded with a magnificent view from the top.
                    The day is warming up again and we are back riding down the road and trying to dodge the trucks. No sign of any food and the breakfast was so meagre that I was unable to steal anything from the table for later. As if I would? Well. Yes I would. All we manage is a brew stop and I find a brown banana to consume with my tea.
                    It must be 30C or more now and the road has its fair share of climbing and not many descents. We are moving more inland and that’s fine as the plan was to avoid Lisbon but we really need to get off this road. It’s after 1pm when we pull off the road into the town of Leiria.  First thing I spot is a supermarket and we soon load up with the necessary. There is a nice cool looking park next to a river and a bench in the shade is soon occupied in order to enjoy our feast. We are both really tired after the mileage in the heat.
                    The idea was to ride 50miles a day which I thought would be fine and we’ve more or less managed it up to now but fell short today and feel we’ve had enough. So over Yoghurt and pastries we have to rewrite the journey somewhat. It’s hard work having a conversation as the local nutcase is striding up the car park behind us shouting at, I don’t know. I think it’s himself. He’s flinging his arms around and shouting and pointing. Sometimes running up and down. He’s out in the full sun doing this. Crazy! I could do with him riding my bike for me. I’m worn out just watching him. Whatever he’s on I want some! Sometimes it’s quiet as he goes a fair old distance and we start to talk. But then. Hey ho. He’s back.
                      Anyway. Decisions to make. Should we knock it in the head and stay here the night. Do we carry on riding but the next town could be too far the way we feel. Plus there is that road. We need to get inland. Wonder if there is a train? I spy a young couple. Always ask the youngsters as they speak the best English. Yes they tell me there is a train station. Nice kids. She is really pleased to learn a new word “Roundabout”. She keeps repeating it as I walk away.
                       Right. Kick Henry awake. I think he’s dreaming of riding through cool English meadows. Back to reality my son! Saddle up, off we trot, leaving the madman to his busy day and ride a couple of miles to find a small, mostly deserted station, simmering away in the heat.
                       There is one ticket seller dozing in his booth.  We’ve decided that we need to get to Evora to restart the trip. I did mention that I am a lazy tourer didn’t I? I think I’ve converted Henry as well.
                       Ok. Here we go. In my best broken Spanish to the Portuguese ticket seller. “Dos billets Evora Por fa vor”.  “Si Senor, No train to Evora”. Oh? “Lisbon Senor, then Evora” Sheesh. Wanted to avoid Lisbon. Once again no choice. Two tickets to Evora it is then. Paid up done. “Bicyclete es bali para train?” “No Senor. No bicyclete on train”. Hard luck mate. I’ve paid and I’m putting the bike on!

Day4. part 2.

                       The train rumbles in about ten minutes late. It’s old and battle scarred. A one-carriage job with the sides covered in graffiti. The train attendant jumps off and points to our bikes. Here we go I thought. Conflict time. But no! He waved us up to the front of the front of the train. It’s one of those jobs where the platform is about two foot lower than the train. Bikes are heaved upwards upwards. The guard is now standing there, looking not happy, but he does condescend to hold the bars of the bike as I struggle to balance the weight upwards. He points out a space to put the bikes behind the drivers cab access.
                       Another lesson learned. Don’t always accept the word No as the definitive answer when dealing with officialdom. The bikes stick into the corridor a bit as there is a suitcase occupying the space but nobody seems to bother.  Carriage  is pretty empty and we grab a couple of seats near the bikes. I love train travel. I think it is the finest way to travel when not on the bike so I was looking forward to the ride.
                       Funny how things don’t always work out as you think. The train clunked and clanked it’s way out of the station. It was warm in the carriage. Very warm. There was a digital sign up front giving speed and outside temp. It was showing 34C outside. The carriage had no aircon working and no opening windows. We were soon drenched in sweat. It was like a sauna! Most of the passengers were fanning themselves.  It must have had some aircon fitted as the windows did not open and there were the vents in the roof. Like I say it seemed to be pretty old.
                       There was a woman sat alone on the seats opposite ours. She kept rummaging in her bag all the time. Coming up with a mobile phone, checking it and then burying it in the bag again. She did this a few times. At one point she got up and beckoned to me. Evidently it was her suitcase that was behind the bikes and she wanted it. Train was flying along at this time. I had to move and hold onto the two bikes with all the swaying so Henry had to be called to lift her case out from behind the bikes. He could hardly lift it was that heavy. She might have had her mother in it or something. It was big  enough. Anyway we got her case. She then went and stood at the exit door of the train with the case. She stood there for about 15 minutes. Then just as it drew into the station the guard came up and led her back to her seat. This happened about three times. I assume she was a bit special. Strange though. Eventually she did get off and there was some woman waiting for her.
                      We stopped many times on the journey at small stations and each time it was worth standing at the doorway to get some cooler air even though it was still 30C outside. God know what it was inside. No blinds at the windows and as the sun moved round so did we. Changing seats when possible to dodge the sun coming in through the windows. A few Portuguese passengers, every now and then, would go to the drivers cabin. They would just walk straight in and remonstrate with the driver about the lack of air-con. Imagine that in the UK? Walking in to see the driver when the train was running! You’d be prone on the floor, handcuffed with a Swat team standing over you in seconds.
                     We stopped at one station for a while and a guy, assume an engineer, came to have a look at, I assume the air-con. It’s didn’t make any difference and you can’t always tell who’s who as they don’t seem to wear a uniform. The driver just wore jeans and a T-shirt. At one point we changed drivers. I assume we did as one scruff got out of the cabin and some old bloke in jeans got in and we set off. Could have been anybody. Oh and at one point a cleaner came on with a dry mop and bucket. She mopped round us while the driver reversed up to a fuel pump and filled up. I don’t know why she bothered as it didn’t make any difference and there was no water in her bucket just some cloths. Very entertaining though for the small minded like myself.
                    So. We were hours on this train, slowly baking in the heat and it was probably about 6. 30 ish when we drew into what we thought was Lisbon. The station we ended up at was pretty small for a big city we thought. The guard came over and informed us. “Finish.”. Everybody trouped off so we followed the crowd.
                    It seems we were nowhere near Lisbon. We had been sold tickets to the end of that particular line.  Henry collared a young guy who explained that we had to change trains and get another into the city. Had we paid all the way into Lisbon? Would we get the bikes on? Here we go again. We were pointed to a very smart train standing on the other line so we wheeled the bikes on and took seats in an air-conditioned carriage. Bliss.
                    Ten minutes later it set off. No conductor in sight so we decided to act the dumb foreigner if one turned up. We started and stopped at a few stations the entire time heading into the city. Still no sign of an official. Even if we get turned off with the bikes, we thought, we were nearer to our destination. It was a very long smart train so like kids dodging fares it may be a while before we got stopped.
                   Or so we thought. Damn. The guy with the grey suit is suddenly stood in front of us. We ignored the bikes. “What bikes? He ignored the bikes. But not us. Tickets. We proffered the tickets from the other train. He looked. Shook his head. No chance. “You need ticket”.  Act daft. “No Comprend”. He smiled, winked at us. Held up his hand and wandered off to check other passengers. We both looked at each other. “What does all that mean?” “Perhaps we’ve got away with it. Nice guy”. We sat back and waited for our station to come up. The train was filling up with commuters. Actually it was pretty packed but we were the only ones with bikes. Worrying.
                     Anyway we rolled into the main Lisbon station. Rolled the bikes off, level platform this time and there is a tap on my shoulder. It grey suit. The guard. Where did he come from? He gestures me to follow him. “Pay ticket” he says. Sheesh. I thought he was a nice guy letting the two foreign idiots off. We follow him down escalators through tunnels, up escalators till we are in the main booking hall. Remember the huge train is stood at the platform waiting for this guy. He tales me to the ticket machine. Points out it’s two euros. I give him a five-euro note and tell him to take for two. He only takes for one. Gives me a plastic card and a receipt and change and does the same to Henry. The train is still up there waiting on this guy. I mean why bother. He smiles, slaps me on the shoulder and waves as he heads back. Nice guy and two Euros? It’s nothing.
                     Ok. Now we are in the centre of Lisbon at eight pm with nowhere to stay and it’s getting dark. Henry has the Iphone up and running with booking.com doing a search. Holding my hands up that magic box is a blessing when it comes to accommodation and it evens shouts out turn-by-turn directions to hotels. It’s brilliant at that. Recommended.
                    We are in a major capital city and yet there is not that much choice in B&Bs. There is a huge business hotel just outside the station but it’s over €100 a night. Henry sees something at €30 a night but he reckons it’s a couple of kilometres away. Now it’s getting dark and the cars have their lights on. Henry does not have any lights with him. I’ve got front and back. He decides to go for it. What’s a couple of kilometres and there seems to be a bike path along the front heading in the right direction. Away we go. Carve a way through the suicidal traffic, like being back home. Not too bad as it’s smooth tarmac and it’s not too far down to the bike path on the front. It’s been a long day and we are both tired so looking forward to a room and shower.
                   The path is good. Tarmaced and flat. Busy though with bikers, joggers, dog walkers and dopey pedestrians so it needs all your attention.
The MTBs coming towards us have spent all their pocket money on high intensity lights and they are pretty blinding. Easy enough to look away but the bike path is intersected by side roads and for some reason has high drop kerbs. Ok for an MTB but not for thin-wheeled tourers so I often have to stop, check it out and ride slowly off or walk it down. The constant oncoming lights make it hard to see the kerb. It’s frustrating. The Kilometers are flying by now. Henry is in front and yet we are no nearer to our overnight. It’s completely dark, but we can see ok. We are running right alongside the beach. I shout at Henry “how much further? I’m like an annoying kid in dad’s car. “Not far” comes back. Pedal on, and on, and on, we actually pass a station that the train stopped at on the way in! We have travelled miles! It’s annoying as I’ve no idea what’s happening as Henry has the Iphone up front. I’m also knackered and we seem to be lost. It’s not far off 9pm and we don’t seem any nearer. Not eaten either. I shout out. Lets give up and kip down on the beach. It’s warm enough. As you know I’ll curl up and sleep anywhere when I have to, it’s not a problem. We are both tired. But no. Henry wants to continue and charges on. And on. Eventually we come to the end of the bike path. It ends in some sort of a temporary fairground area where there are empty stands and a security guard in a portacabin.
                   It’s as we pass the portacabin that we see a dead end. There is a small cycle-path off to the right that will take us back to the main road. But it’s blocked with tall temporary fencing. Which is a bit stupid. So I ride up to it and pull the fencing to one side to ride through. The security guard comes out shouting at us but I tell him where to go in best Mancunian tradition. I’m not in the best of moods now and he backs off. We head down the path to the main road. It is teaming with traffic. It’s narrow and cobbled. Henry says we have to ride down it. I say “No way!” We are shouting at each other. It’s crazy, mad, dangerous. Then we spot a cyclist riding in the lane towards the traffic on the wrong side of the road. When in Rome. We do the same. Mental. Completely and utterly mental, but we are getting away with it. Sanity prevails eventually and we turn inland. Well. Into the town. I’m cursing loudly at all this stupidity and at Henry and his bloody insistence at keeping going when there is a nice warm soft beach nearby. He’s probably cursing me for cursing him and so it goes. We are now heading painfully uphill through the old town. The hills are steep, narrow, cobbled and have tramlines running through the middle of them. No bloody trams though. Just sodding tramlines!
                     Now as you know tramlines and bicycles don’t mix.  This is a busy area. It’s after nine on a weekend night. The narrow pavements are crowded and so the pedestrians are walking in the gutter and spilling into the road. I need to be in the gutter to avoid the tramlines.  I can’t get there because of the pedestrians so I’m forced to cross the tramline at an angle and ride uphill on cobbles between them. Which puts me in the centre of the road with cars at my back as I slowly ascend the hill. Henry is in a better place as he is in front. My rear light is watching back and he seems oblivious to the situation, as he is absorbed in the Iphone directions. The hills get steeper and steeper.
                      Unbelievably I don’t get abuse from the cars behind me but I’m aware of their engines at my back wheel. First chance they get they go to the other side of the road and zoom past but they are still brushing my elbow. I’d stop and walk it as it’s safer but Henry is oblivious and I’d lose him in the traffic. He should be watching his rear mirror but I can see it’s pointing at the sky. I’ve more than had enough and am now contemplating any hotel and price and flying out of Lisbon back home in the morning. I’m looking longingly at park benches we pass and deciding whether to go for it, after I have killed Henry of course when he shouts “It’s here” and the hellhole hotel appears across the street.
                  Sparks and steam is coming from my nostrils. Henry goes inside to sort out the rooms while I guard the bikes, while also consider setting fire to them. Pedestrians sense the nutter outside with bikes and steer a path around me. Got to give it to Henry, He’s a lot calmer than me.
                  We are booked in but we are told that the bikes have to be left in the car park around the back of the building. Just left against a wall with no gate on the car park in a large city! Not good. Nothing we can do and at the moment I don’t particularly care if it is not there in the morning. Indeed I might be hoping it’s not. I empty most of my saddlebag into a rucksack and trudge up to the room. The whole place smells a bit and the lift is something out of a Hitchcock movie. Those old rusty double iron gates on it where you can see right down the shaft. It does not appear anyway when you press the big old button, so we walk up. This place is really a hostel disguised as a seedy hotel but we have got an en-suite room. En-suite? Hah! The tiny bathroom is in a 1930s cracked tiles red colour. If you sit on the toilet you have to sit slightly sideways as your knees bang on the wall opposite. No windows and it’s boiling hot. Still it’s dirt-cheap and there is a bed.
                      We quickly shower and set off to find food. There is an Arndale centre up the hill [more hills] and it has a restaurant that is closing soon, so a meal is ordered at UK prices. It is a bit posh for us but they still serve us.
                       Now I’ve not mentioned this but when it comes to red wine Henry and I have this thing. Henry likes to gulp his wine. I sip and savour. Everybody to their own. However when we order a bottle Henry is on his second glass while I’m still savouring the first. Portuguese wine is superb. Probably the best I’ve had. I love it. We recognise the problem and try to find ways round it. It’s cheap enough that we could afford a bottle each but that’s too much for me.
                     This restaurant is not busy and it’s near closing time so we have a very attendant waitress. Every time Henry almost empties his wine glass she shoots over and refills it. I’m in crisis here as that lovely wine is disappearing fast and I’m on my first glass. We have to stop her eventually and Henry has to order more just for himself. Problem solved but nearly a disaster. The wine and food make us feel more human and we are back on relatively good terms as we head back to the shambles of a hotel for a welcome nights rest. One day that I am glad to see the back of

                Day 5
 Good morning Lisbon. What have you got to offer? Maybe not breakfast. We have overslept! It’s 9.45am. We could miss breakfast! Disaster has to be avoided and we sprint down before the dining room closes. A raven-haired beauty has replaced the guy that was on reception last night. As we stand in awe  she informs us that we are just in time for breakfast, but all the croissants have gone. Hell! I love my morning croissants. I’m not allowed these at home [too full of fat}so tend to pig out on them on holiday and try to justify it by cycling. Yea that’ll work. Not!. Never mind there is still a decent breakfast awaiting and we load up. Just wish the beauty would stop strolling up and down to refill things. It’s very distracting for love-starved cyclists.
                 Unfortunately the bikes are still waiting for us in the car park. I’m still a bit shell-shocked from yesterday’s cock-ups.  I’m happy to be bike less today. A wanderingTourist lifestyle would suit for a change. We have decided that we need to get out of the city ASAP and find some peaceful country roads. Check the trains and find that there is one, but it does not leave for hours. The bus however leaves every hour for Evora. If we can get the bikes on, it could be a good choice. A conversation with Miss Portugal at the counter informs us [she ignores the open mouthed dribbling] that there is a Metro station 500yds away and we can of course take the bikes.
               It’s any easy downhill run to the huge station. Need tickets. We decipher the instructions on the ticket machine. It offers, card or no card, payment options. Ahh.. It seems that you have to buy a card for a Euro. But we have one. The guy last night off the train gave us a card didn’t he? That’s what he was trying to tell us when he insisted on us keeping the card and receipt. He was saving us money. Good guy. Right we hop or heave bikes onto the tram. We were the only bikes but nobody batted an eyelid. Great people these Portuguese. Changed lines once, but good exercise, those big stairways in between.
             The Met takes you straight into the Bus Station that is close to the main railway station.  Have you noticed anything dear reader? No?  All that hassle riding in the dark and traffic last night! The anger, despair, desperation! Come on!
           The bloody Metro service was next to the train station! We could have just jumped on the tram and been 500yds from out pretend Hotel. Argghhhh…
           Oh well. Henry queues up for tickets. Henry “Can we put the bikes on the Bus to Evora?” Clerk “No. No bikes on Bus”. Henry. “You sure?” Clerk. “No! No bikes on Bus. See  Information”. We walk over to an information counter. “Can we put bikes on the bus to Evora?” “Certainly Senor. I will phone the reservation through” It’s a crazy world eh? So we go back to a different window and buy tickets. The bikes evidently have to be bagged, well we think they do, so we go off to find a shop that sells Clingfilm and sellotape. A shop doorway is discovered nearby. You go through the small door and find a department store inside. It’s huge! What would you do without the Chinese? Three rolls of Clingfilm each. Front wheel removed and strapped to frame. Bikes wrapped and taped and we wait at the Evora stop.

             The bus turns up. You are never sure are you? Will the driver take the bikes? It’s nice big new Mercedes bus that rolls in. The driver comes straight over to us, points at the bikes and walks round to the side of the bus, unhinges the baggage door and points. He’s quite happy with the bikes. He’s been informed that there are bikes to be loaded. Result.
            It’s a great bus. Better than some of the rubbish at home. Working Air-con and comfy seats. It’s a pleasure to sit back and watch the scenery as we leave the city. Sometimes you just don’t want to be on the bike.
            It’s another hot day. But we are sat back in air-conditioned luxury admiring the countryside rather than sweating out way out of Lisbon. A room is booked in Lisbon on the magic box while we are still travelling and as soon as we are deposited in Evora we put the bikes together and find our overnight stop. This is a nice place. The bikes are dragged upstairs and parked in the lady’s office.
              Our room is at the top of the house. It’s an air-conditioned twin room with en-suite and a kitchen. A great location just off the main square and it’s only €30 a night. No breakfast though. It’s a roof window so we can do our washing and spread it all out on the roof tiles to dry. How great is that! I’m easily pleased. Well sometimes.
              Evora is a really nice town and we decide to book an extra night, have a day off, like you do. Well like lazy sods like us do. The room and town are so good. No chance! It’s booked up. Not surprised really. The host says her friend has a place around the corner so we could have that for €30 tomorrow night. We don’t have much choice, as it’s the weekend. The town is slowly being booked up as it’s a bit of a tourist trap. So we agree.

               It's a good meal that night with the usual superb wine in the picturesque main square. Then retire to our beds knowing that we have nothing at all to do tomorrow. Great days for a lazy cyclist.

Day 6
Nice to wake up in Evora with the thought of nothing to do. I was going to say. “And nowhere to go but that isn’t true. We have to move rooms. First thought the most important thing is to find some breakfast and we fins a back street café that knocks something up for €6. You don’t get much for that so it’s always wise to go for the B&B breakfast if it is a buffet job. Luckily fruit is cheap and I top up at the fruit shop.
                We pack and wheel the bikes around to the new quarters. €30 here for two in a room so it’s a bargain but not as good as last night. It turns out that we are sharing the bathroom with other guests. Something I dislike, but beggars and choosers and all that.
                 We are invited to bring the bikes inside. This means manhandling them up two flights of stairs and into the landlady’s lounge, past her husband who is sitting on a straight-backed chair reading his morning paper. We move the dining table and manoeuvre the bikes onto the balcony overlooking the street. Our room is small and very old fashioned. Typical 1930s Portuguese I guess. Interesting. Unpacked, I stretch out on the bed just as some numpty across the way decides that everybody within a 5 mile radius need to appreciate his hard rock collection. Time to head out. Do the tourist thing.
                        There are a few historical buildings here and it’s good to wander around in the sunshine looking at ancient ruins that are even older than me. Have a beer in the square and all that. It’s as we are strolling down a tiny cobbled street that we hear such a crash! There is a lady lying prone on the floor. We run over and help her up. Her shopping is all over the street, She appears to be unhurt but I’m not so sure, She went with a hell of a crash. Maybe her pride was hurt more. A nice attractive woman who tells us it’s her stupid heels on stupid Portuguese cobbles that is the problem. Not just cyclists have to suffer them then. I must remember not to wear my heels tonight.
                        Back to the room with a noisy view before setting out for an evening meal. The rocker has shut up shop for now so it’s peaceful. I’m frustrated on this tour as once the day is over my bike is stashed away in a cellar or garage till the next day. I need to tinker with the saddlebag set-up and brakes but I can never get near my bike. So I wander out onto the balcony to try and do a bit. I have to go through the lounge and the old guy who is still sat on his chair reading a paper. He nods and I tell him what I am doing as I sidle past. I set to work. A few minutes in, and notice the newspaper reader stood in the balcony doorway, watching me with his wife looking over his shoulder. I give up and return to the room.
                   We need a shower but the bathroom is well worn and does not seem to be cleaned regularly. It’s a bit mucky and the shower does not work very well. I don’t know who is mucking it up as we have not seen any other guests and have always managed to access the bathroom. Not a pleasant place to linger though. While Henry is trying to have a shower I busy myself bashing my blackberry phone in frustration. We have tried everything to try and bring it back to life. Changed batteries, charged, recharged it, banged it, shook it, all to no avails. I try rubbing the keyboard against the 1930s dresser. It a hard wood with sharp angles. Suddenly it springs into life and a couple of the keys work. Hmm.. I give it some more rubbing against the wood. Eventually I get all the keys working. Great stuff! I thought it was finished. So now I have a phone, MP3 and camera again. Weird.
Day 7.
We decided to retire early last night to get a head start the next day before it got too hot. So. Up early. In and out of the mucky bathroom and sneak into the lounge to retrieve our bikes from the balcony. No. Caught out!. Our landlady is already up. At the top of the stairs in her dressing gown. I know she was wearing a wig yesterday! Sleek black hair on an eighty year old does not look right. So there she stands a vision of loveliness first thing on the morning. No. Not really. But she’s a nice enough old dear, just needs to go round that bathroom with a mop and cloth.
               Everything is already paid so I don’t know why she is up. Probably checking we don’t steal anything.
                Anyway the sun is up and time to get some miles in before it reaches it’s zenith. It’s easy to leave the small town and the cobbles behind. It’s as we leave the outskirts we come across some rally or other. The road is packed with I’d guess upwards of thirty land rovers in various guises. The drivers standing around chatting and admiring tyres and exhausts and things. Never seen so many in one place before. Hope they are not going our way. It’s really quiet on the road; nice riding and the miles fly past.
                  Today’s destination is Beja. It’s 50miles ish. The way we are running it looks, as it will be an early afternoon arrival. Must be pretty flat or we are pretty fit. I’m going for the flat thing, but it gives us time to savour our afternoon brew stop. We come across a nice shady concrete set-up. Why can’t we have this in the UK?.


 Beja turns out to be a nice place and Henry’s magic box conjures us up a nice hotel in the centre. The bikes are once again locked up in the garage and we are given a really nice room with a large balcony overlooking one of the shopping thoroughfares. It’s still early afternoon and we have time to do the washing and chill out for a while on the balcony.

Today’s  entertainment is supplied by a gang of builders working on a roof on the opposite side of the street. No scaffolding or hard hats, high-viz etc. I can’t even see a ladder but they must have got up there somehow. They scramble up and down the steep roof with buckets of mortar and paint. The H&S bods in the UK would have a fit.
                   Attractive town though. I like the way they stretch sails across the street to provide some shade for pedestrians.

We wander around the town later looking for food. Up a backstreet we fins a fairly busy place. Just a shop window really but we push through the narrow opening and find ourselves in a busy reataurant. Only a couple of tables empty. we are ushered into a table for two and what follows is one of the finest meals and wine we have yet encountered. All at a very reasonable price. There is an open kitchen where we can see our food being prepared and the wine being drawn from large wooden casks. As we eventually stagger out of the door we find we have to weave our way through a queue of hopeful clients. Not suprised it is so popular.
                Up early for another good buffet breakfast in the small dining room and we are then escorted down into the garage for our bikes. Another beautiful sunny October day . Love it!
Day 8 
 We are heading for the town of Mertolo. It's in the national park and alongside the river Guardiana Downhill then. You'd think. No chance we climb a lot of hills in the heat. Henry is fitter this year and he passes me a few times which leaves me cursing and mashing the pedals. It's not so far though so we don't need to go mad and we soon start looking for a suitable stop for our roadside brewup. Boring old farts eh? The heat is really opressive and the sweat is pouring into my eyes. I knew I should have let my eyebrows grow, I have to dig out my bandana just to contain the sweat. We eventually come across an isolated bus stop and the stove has to make an appearance.
Once we are suitably refreshed it's time to saddle up and we find after all that sweaty climbing we are rewarded with a long downhill run involving a few switchbacks with a long drop off the sides. We must be heading for the river. there are a lot of hunters around here driving 4 wheel drives with a trailer attached. There are a couple of dogs in the trailers. Gun dogs I presume and we see more than one with the carcass of a wild boar strapped to the top of the trailer. 
               Not many miles further and we have made any early appearance in Mertola. It's early afternoon and the town is deserted. Well it appears that way. Except for the hunter we see driving into a restaurant carpark with a boar carcass in tow. 
              It is a bit early to find an hotel so we plonk ourselves down in front of the only open establishment for a welcome coffee. Notice not much work going on with us you may notice. Well we are on holiday.
                       Eventually we prise ourselves loose from the table under the shade and wander into the town. This place is on the river and the bridge over the water is evidentally the border between Portugal and Spain. having lots of time we take a couple of snaps.
Right we have found a hotel for the night €30 for a room and €6 each for buffet breakfast. It's a deal. Off we trot to book in. Nice girl on reception who gives us a tour of the garage store for the bikes and the keys to the room. Don't expect much for the money but it is quite a posh hotel. very smart. well, when we open up the room it's brilliant! Very nicely furnished, good bathroom and it has a balcony over the river. very romantic. Pity I'm straight and sharing it with a hairy, snoring, farting biker. Oh well. Great views across and down the river. Could sit on the balcony all day. but as always we need to eat.
                         Time to explore. Another nice town this but more like a village really. It's even got a castle. The first restaurant we come to has tables set up outside and it is pretty empty. It is nothing special. basic tables and chairs etc. it's when we read the menu and prices we decide it is not for us. We are now used to Portugese prices and we are given a menu with English prices on it. Service not very welcoming either. time to leave. The restaraunt we passed on the way in is about half a mile away so we wander over. It looks a bit expensive for us two vagabonds. white tablcloths and cut gass and silver cutlery on the table. trouble is we are greeted by a goddess on the doorway and ushered in. We fall for it and mumble our way to a table. The leather bound menu is flourished and we are pleasently suprised. Not expensive at all.  The wine is a good price and the dish of the day. What a suprise. Fresh wild boar. well we know it's fresh we saw it being delivered! Probably heard it being shot as well. It's about €9 so we order one each. It comes with vegatables and fries. Bargain! 
                        The meal soon arrives. A great big pot of delicious wild boar. I assume they have combined the two servings into one pot. It is absolutely delicious and the wine is superb as always. We pig out. see what I did there. Pig out? Oh. never mind.
                         Suitably stuffed we ask for the bill, It's embarrasing. We have been charged for only one serving of the boar. €9 for two! Ridiculous! But worth a decent tip. 

Day 9
We are woken this morning by the sound of sheep and goats being herded down to the river. What a great way to wake up.  I watch for a while from the balcony while Henry destroys the bathroom with his morning ablutions. This is a good place to bring your loved one. very impressive and not to far to drive from Faro.
                There is another good breakfat awaiting us and we make good use of it. On paying the bill at reception we are told the room is €35 not €30! Why? Because you have the nice room with the balcony. My colleauge should have put you in the room overlooking the street. We protest. We don't need a nice room. We are two hairy assed bikers the street would have done fine. Henry in the end shows her the booking on his phone and she has to capitulate. The first time we have come across this attempted ripoff in Portugal. Oh well.
               Okay. Bikes retrieved from the garage and off we trot. Uphill! Oh yes it is uphill. Very uphill. We climb a tortuous route away from the river. It's really hard with a full breakfast on board and sleepy legs. takes an age to get going and we meet a lot more climbs but nothing as bad as the first one of the day. Neither of us are good climbers we are both too heavy. No I did not say fat. Too heavy! We are heavily muscled. thats our excuse anyway. One guy we meet at the side of the road is not impressed but he has more muscle than us. If thats possible.
We are riding paralell to the river and the border but the road climbs and dips and we are working hard. We drop right down to the river into a small village. very touristy and very beautiful. It's getting towards lunchtime so decide to camp here for a while and enjoy some cheese toast thing and a coffee alongside the rose covered  riverbank.
It's another hard climb out of here. At one point I have to dismount and push for a hundred yards. Our destination is Vila Real on the coast. The road starts to flatten out and we ride a quiet lane bordered by smallholdings and running through small settlements. It's very idylic and it's good to be able to coast along and have a chat as we ride. There are no shops or anything and it is just as well we stopped for lunch when we did.

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