Europe 2015: Cycling From Lisbon To Coimbra, Portugal

Well, that wasn't exactly what I'd planned, staying in Lisbon for two weeks. Especially not with so many kilometers to go until my destination. But it sure was a pleasure, and no regrets. How could I have any, after being so wonderfully hosted and treated to two "guided" excursions, both to Portugal's forgotten northeast corner and a WOMAD festival in western Spain? No, no second-guessing that wonderful use of time, but it's nevertheless time to hit the road - especially what with all the bicycle pieces being in place and all. Have bike, will travel - and there's no questioning that I now have a bike, albeit one fully loaded for bear.

The hard part, of course, is leaving. This involves divining when precisely to say goodbyes to each of the roomies (given their odd schedules), yes, but since I'll likely be returning to Lisbon for a flight out... well, I'll likely be seeing them again soon enough. So there's no cause for crocodile tears quite yet, then. Instead what I'm ruminating over, taking leaden steps at the apartment's threshold, is the loss... of comfort. Gotta be honest. Yeah, I'm all about knowing where my head will rest for the night, be it inside or outside, dry or wet. I suppose safe, too, if being realistic. To that end I'm fortunately reasonably convinced that I'll actually be just fine, but these are regardless the doubts that seed themselves when heading onto the open road, magnified by having an unknown destination for the night for the first in a rather long time. I need only remind myself, however, that my two previous big bike tours, in Quebec/New Brunswick/Maine and SE Australia, are already more than five years in the past! Yes, I'm overdue to do this cycle touring thing again, and that's what propels me beyond the door.

So it's time to roll, starting *now*, and I thus undertake the necessary trips up and down all of the building's four floors (that seem more like twenty, given their narrow twists and turns that I bang my way through uncomfortably, shuttling both my bike and all of my bags to the building's entrance. I've soon got a sweat going, yet I've not ridden nary a yard - I mean meter! By necessity, I stage my accumulating mess first in the dark entryway inside the building's main doors, then I perform an awkward slide of stuff to the outside, all the while trying to keep the door open with one bodily appendage or another. We've all been there; we all know there's a better way, yet we won't do it better next time, either. In any event, I immediately realize upon now-belatedly communicating with the outdoors that I'll be dealing with a blasting measure of sun in making a late noon start. That'll add just a few more bullets of sweat, I mutter inwardly, equally reminding myself that the increased visibility under such daylight is a good thing on a bike. Right. Right. Man, it's hot out!

Strapping bags fore (a first for my cycle touring) and aft, I next plop the trumpet atop the rear rack to secure it with a bungeecord, giving the bike a shake in the process. Whoa, talk about ballast. The front and back even seem to wiggle of their own accord independently of each other, better than the shimmy shake of a stripper flinging a removed garment - or so I'm told. Ahem. Yep, looks like this'll be yet another tanker of a rig I'm hitting the road with. Yeesh! I don't learn, do I? Worse, I'm self-posing this question even when realizing that I HAVE learned some. Haven't I made numerous changes regarding cookware and other items from previous trips, all evidenced by their lack thereof this time 'round? I could *swear* that I've only eliminated gear, but... hmmm... well, there ARE a rather prodigious number of books in there... plus there's that bulging wad of music measuring over an inch thick, all in hopes of availing myself of it constantly. Oh, well. Necessities. Onward.

To no sound of cannons, fireworks, bands, or otherwise, then, I cinch my shoes, zip up my jersey, and mount my overweight mechanical beast. It grumbles to accept my weight, but I try to soothe it's concerns in noting that at least I won't have to start with any whip or kick to its ribs. Nope, that won't be necessary since the first bit is downhill... if over cobblestone... and crossing a multitudinous spaghetti platter of trolley rail lines. Sigh. No, this isn't exactly the grease of smooth pavement, no glorious start unto the road this, plus it looks like I'll get to enjoy heavy midday Lisbon traffic for the effort. Then again, such heaving convulsions of sputtering and stalling machines can be a cyclist's friend - especially when they're all slowed to a crawl and I'm not. So I soon find myself briskly moseying alongside them to the right. I refrain from putting my thumb to my nose and wriggling any fingers, but I'm almost certainly humming some dumb tune as is my wont. And it'll likely be the same one for the next chunk of hours, as is also my dreaded wail.

Thus it is that I happily plunge through Lisboa's mayhem of urbanity, at glances admiring its slices of skyline and architecture I've quickly grown to enjoy so much. I take last looks, too, at the similarly eye-pleasing color and contingency of folks of Iberian, Asian and African flavors all about, walking and hawking their wares on the sidewalks of the burg. Some are even wearing traditional robes, not fully letting go of their roots. They've all seemingly been brought in only on different tides to this ancient, bustling crossroads of a port, the very one which I'm eschewing for the moment. But it's with more actual longing, however, that I eye the numerous cafes also spied in passing, one following another, each offering tasty coffees (at ridiculously inexpensive prices to trash any possible resistance) alongside the odd custard-filled pasteis, be they from Belém or no. I'll miss this town!

On I spin at a cantering speed, then, already knowing too well my way out of this jewel of a burg, a simple route indeed. I merely roll down these streets I've walked so many times, starting from the inner residential area that overlooks the core business district, making my way down its steep hill onto the jaded gathering of flats below. I punch through the grandiose commercial plat forged unto magnificence over centuries, that stately and tidy grid of parallel blocks each adorned in their exceedingly handsome - if often overly ornate - architecture. Mere minutes later, I reach the main square on the sea, where an ample arch and statue of Columbus or Magellan (Details! No time!) beckons travelers to sail unto the horizon - or cycle along the shoreline, as the case may be. Details! Whatever. [The statue at the plaza is of King Jose I on horse, trampling on snakes, while the one above the arch - if I had actually ever looked at it - isn't even of a man, instead of a woman representing Glory. Oops.]

Now at the waterfront, I bank (uh, turn, but bank sounds a lot more noble) hard to the right, right at the grand Cais do Sodre Rail/Metro Station. Here I pick up the fabled cycle trail (ciclovia), which I've been told should take me in the most trivial fashion through all ~20km necessary to reach the beach resort town Cascais, if not beyond. It supposedly always hugs the Metro's train tracks, and truth be told it more or less does - when the trail hasn't been locally co-opted out of existence for those astride bikes. (Insert oversized gripe here.) Yes, when it IS available, the trail DOES snuggle both the tracks and the coastline, even as I need add a further qualifier about how it sometimes decides to disappear in clarity when its markings become a haze of indecipherable symbols on the ground that should supposedly help - but quite definitely don't. The good news is that such split hairs of navigation really don't matter, what with the coastline so close at hand. No, if I get lost in going from Lisbon to Cascais - not to mention Porto way on up ahead along the coast - I truly can only blame myself. [When this does happen - and it will, but not here or yet - I will.]

First I need to properly clear Lisbon, however, and this includes what I determine to be a requisite stop for an "Onward!" photo. This I achieve at the sometimes-waterlogged-sometimes-not fortress at Belém. A young French couple is given the honor of shooting my intrepidness, if only after ingratiating myself by first offering to do them the honors of the same. That's generally about the full extent of any trickery I'm capable of, somehow missing the grandness of the moment in my being on the cusp of departure to head all the way to Slovakia and all. Then again, it'd likely help if I actually found myself officially outside the environs of the starting city. More pesky details. In any event, the picture is the first of many to be stored away on my shiny new mini-tablet companion to adventure; I bid them adieu to resume my coastal odyssey, ignoring however infant it might be in its instantiation.

Okay, NOW I'm ridin': The sun is shining, the music in the iPod is playing, and with every circumference in the tires' roll the kilometers helplessly give way to my indomitable will. Cutting through areas of grandeur and industrial abandon both, I slide onto and off the trail as it allows or doesn't, at times sporadically merging with traffic only to get honked at - probably because I'm supposed to be on the mysteriously missing trail. All the while I'm a bit picture happy, an inevitability to be especially had when repeatedly spying mansions or fortresses of considerable grandeur in passing. At one such mini-stop, I find myself reverting to French to ask a similarly confused tourist (also on a bike) just where exactly we're supposed to be legally riding. But she, too, doesn't know where the hell the trail's gone, merci. It doesn't help, either, when, after again finding the official trail, I'm booted back off of it by a full phalanx of local policemen. They block the path with a multitude of squad cars and a rather overwhelming presence of authority to deny us scofflaws transit other than on foot. Apparently the ciclovia isn't a BICYCLE trail whenever tourism is involved in any numbers, completely ignoring the reality of it being both smooth as butter and several meters wide - which would be enough to handily accommodate a pair of tanks. Argh.

The agreeable pattern of eye-catching visuals is at least set for this stretch of coast, anyway, as I take in a repeating succession of the odd fisherman, surfer, seaside estate, castle(-ish) building, tourist in bathing suit, resort, etc. Actually, by the time I get to Cascais (Koshkighsh), I'm kinda ready for things to get a wee more... natural. That sentiment is especially true upon coasting through this resort city where tourism is in high gear. Its buildings are just that more suitably outlandish in heightened elegance, plus there's also a goodly fortress and some museums, but... Well, it's all nice, but this is all getting to be a bit much.

Wanting a slight reprieve from the onslaught of vacationing going on all around me, I take my first break at a tiny and blissfully empty park to play the horn, chow down a bit, and take in my bearings. According to the mini-tablet's map, it looks like I'm due for a big change in scenery: the next stretch should see an end to civilization, like almost immediately. I'm glad for the upcoming change, naturally now trying to guess from the map which beach or copse of woods out there will be home for the night. Here in the mid-afternoon, though, that's still a long ways away. Mostly, however, I'm cognizant of the fact that the trip's officially underway. No denying it now.

And indeed I'm soon finally leaving the confines of urbanity. There's an excellent bike path leading out of Cascais, and via that blessing I gain a modicum of elevation to receive more sweeping views of the sea - or rather the Atlantic Ocean - than previously. There are more forts, of course, but more oddly I now encounter a number of strange blowholes (or just plain holes) that cut through the high rock I'm traveling alongside. Each is marked with cemented rocks, likely both warning the safety-minded while beckoning the reckless. Meanwhile there's also a dwindling number of resorts, eventually to be followed by the requisite lighthouse to more or less end the development for greater Lisbon and Cascais: I'm beginning to officially round this particular corner of the continent.

Consequent to said rounding, however, there's also this likely necessary, if annoying, but definitely unavoidable fact: the winds have really begun to pick up... and all seem destined for my face. And I don't mean just a little, either. Indeed, by the time I'm grinding my way past the few lonely (and wisely glassed-in) restaurants at the beaches of Guincho ("gweenshoo"), I feel like I'm battling a full gale - one that's gleefully tickling itself silly by sandblasting my skin for good measure. Yes, its mostly just a wash of tingly prickings right now, sure, but I wonder what I'd look if this went on all day. It's like a free, outdoor dermatology spa. My bike's progress naturally slows to a crawl under such pressure, meanwhile, as I can't even grimace to show my determination for fear of the enamel of my teeth being sanded right off. Adventure! Yeah! Right.

As I now head uphill and away from Guincho (unsurprisingly more of a windsurf and kitesurf beach than a surfer's one), the winds turn positively epic, but soon enough I begin to earn reprieves. These come in the form of tailwinds that arise on the increasing number of curves, some even hurriedly blowing my bike down the road when the angle is right. Woo hoo! But for all that I'm nevertheless pooped, too, so somewhere in this exchange of winds jumping from front to back I decide to call it a day. My best estimate is that I'm located some unknown number of kilometers before the town of Colares when I conveniently see the kind of dirt road to one side I've been looking for. It jags off and up to the right with trail signs on it, lending me to believe that surely I have a home here in the offing. Even if I don't, I'm ready to make one regardless.

Glad to dismount my bike, I trudge-walk it up this increasingly steep, rough road to eventually decide on turning onto one of the marked trails disappearing into brush. It's time to get myself out of sight for the night, and a semi-clearing is ultimately judged to have the honors of being Night #1's site. Although I probably should be whittling a wooden plaque to honor the occasion alongside a pleasant campfire for posterity, however, instead I now find myself running about trying to stake my tent down in hurricane conditions. I'm exhausted when by the time I'm finally able to get inside my nylon shelter, happy to be hidden away for the night... when a dog runs by the tent, barking. Are you kidding me? Yelling out as if I had a gun or something, no one answers. Granted, I'd only hear anyone if they shook my tent, what with the wind, but there's no reply. I only can hear some howls in the distance, leaving me with little choice but to be on full alert for a good many minutes. But after enough waiting about in the dark, then relaxing my guard to read a book under my headlamp for a further spell, I finally involuntarily give up the ghost of consciousness. I've seen and experienced quite a grab bag of variety for Day #1, yes, but it all doesn't matter when head meets pillow.

I awake early to find that the winds are still raging away, thus collapsing camp in a necessary hurry on account of simultaneously having to chase bits of gear being constantly blown into bramble. Fun this isn't, but I know it can't always be, either. Soon enough I'm re-cinched for the ride, however, and I can now calmly walk the bike out of this bramble hollow to make my way again down to the road. In no time I'm turning off toward the little town of Azoia near Cabo da Roca for a pick-me-up morning coffee.

The cape below, Cabo da Roca, is the westernmost point of continental Europe (and the Eurasian landmass by default), I remember reading, and here I muse that my experience with the wind has rather aptly proven the point. Eventually fortified with enough joe, I continue with my roll downhill a ways, edging toward the cape to spy the lighthouse, but I decide to pass on making my way all the way to the sea for the picture of dipping my toe in the water or whatever. I call it then and there in favor of getting back to civilization again, more importantly with as little altitude to regain as possible. As for "civilization", that should come my way soon enough at Sintra, my first port of call just up ahead.

Getting there's a bit more work than the proverbial stroll in the park, it need be said, but it's a nice ride nonetheless. That's especially true when, after regaining the main road from the Cabo detour, I soon find myself in a long divebomb of flying glory that takes me through winding ravines. That gets me down into Colares, a picturesque plunge if there ever was one, and there I stop briefly in town to put some air in my tire (free here, no pumping of stupid quarters for such a meagre service like in the U.S.) while guessing how far I've got to go for the day.

Making matters rather easy, I already can spy the Moorish castle that sits above Sintra in the distance. At least that's what I'm guessing it is - it's kind of faint, but it's an unmistakably manmade crown to the highest hill/mountain around - and eventually this hazarded guess will actually be confirmed. More to the moment, however, it gives me a metric of where I'm headed, and that'd namely be up. Way up. And so it goes, and so I go. Up. Up and up and up, soon sometimes alongside a rail tram that takes tourists up. It's all about one word, up, or it is until finally I find myself navigating some twists and turns that have walls and houses alongside of them: I must be in Sintra! As for the castle? It's still rather small and quite above me. Up there. Up.

I nevertheless am happy to be stopping, looking over yet another ravine to now take in Sintra proper, quite a sight to behold in any book. Across the way, and only a short distance as the crow flies if a mile to descend and climb the ravine, there are numerous palaces and castles - I don't know which is which, honestly - that call to me as sirens with their grace and charm. More that anything, here at the onset of my Sintra visit I'm already quite impressed with the variety of styles and colors found in the architecture, and even moreso I'm taken aback by their harmony of setting in the surrounding nature. Wow! I had no idea this gem existed! Indeed, I had only recently learned in Lisboa that there even *was* such a royal redoubt of empire days and all, this hideaway of refreshing cooler airs for nobility wanting respite from the furnace that Lisbon becomes in the summer. Wow!

Gathering my jaw back unto the rest of my face, a waiter at the cafe in front of which said mandible has so dropped graciously allows me to use his WIFI. In no time I've quickly located the hostel jotted down when getting ideas for a Sintra stay back in Lisbon. Casa Oh turns about to be not much than around the corner away, something soon unsurprising in its scale that I'll soon learn: everything really isn't that far away in Sintra, necessary hillclimbing excepted (and excepting any remnant Moors!) I've soon got my bed squared away in this welcoming hostel, in reality a fancy B&B that oddly has one large room set aside in an out building to allow for the "slum" concept of a hostel - which it hardly is, given its mere allowance of four beds and sporting an en suite bath. Thus it's just like that that I'm already seeing a stay of a few nights with such digs, ready to enjoy such a jewelbox of a town.

Subsequently and immediately taking to walking about this pearl on a hill, I find myself slowly eyeballing all of the opulence found in so many edifices. Many sport the unexpected bonus of offering gardens and walkways to enter into, which I can't help but do, all the more to further fall in love with this town. But there are ample bits of statuary, too, plus elaborate public fountains fronting the streets, not to mention walls denoting marked trails that lead off into greenery. With such a tip of the hat to elegance, meanwhile, of course there is no shortage of coffees and delicate pastries to imbibe and engorge on, too. All of this comes with such a tranquil vibe that I can't help but wonder why this place isn't packed. [It helps that my arrival is in May, as apparently in a month or two all such peace and quiet here will be in VERY short supply. This I'll find out much later, from other tourists I've yet to meet.] In any event I'm home, and with this weather and calmness, I could stay forever.

For the present, however, it's all about exploring. So I go on long walks, up to the Moorish castle and the nearby Pena National Palace on an adjoining hill's crown. Both overlook the town in regal solitude, although as usual I pass on actually entering them. Then I also wander out toward the monastery Monserate, where I keep to this newer tradition of mine of skipping on entering while instead looking for even more angles to achieve overlooks. For the monastery, such a coveted view comes at a secret-ish spot on a wall, one that's been worn through the ivy. Granted, this means I'm not the first with such an idea, but in the present at least I have it to myself - and it's a fine spot for a bite and a tipple. Yep, wherever I can find a rock or a spot with a view of a castle, or of lands below all the way to the sea - and here there are so many - I'm there.

Wandering further betwixt and between the connecting byways of the burg, I just can't get over this variety of resplendence and detail in Sintra; I've never seen anything like this before. Many of these places have been restored, of course, or at least their facades have (some crumbling interiors can be seen here and there if properly sticking one's nose in, as I tend to do), but that's enough to lend the necessary ambiance. From the looks of the private estates, too, one quinta after another invariably fronted by oodles of Mercedes, Porsches, BMWs and such, there is no doubt that any and all of this is extremely coveted real estate. With such surroundings and views to infinity, how could it not be! Thus it is that I happily peer and peek about, even crashing a wedding on its edges just to see what its particular scene is at yet another sumptuous estate. This is the tranquil and resplendent Europe found in travel brochures, if only actually ever experienced in spurts and blurts in this age of massive tourism. I'm quite lucky to have literally stumbled onto this place, especially at this approachable and timely moment of fair weather and low crowds.

The town itself is, of course, fully geared for the tourism I'm not currently being overwhelmed with, one cafe or restaurant after another lining its narrow streets in its commercial. There nevertheless isn't an extensive number of them overall in what's a small town, and beyond the eateries and drinkeries are only small shops that chiefly sell Portuguese products of generally respectable quality if of the usual (and coveted) suspects: cheese, sausage, port, wine. In addition to all said culprits above, one need add as well the traditional cherry liquor ginga that's on offer, often served in a chocolate cup to sweeten the treat. Or one can purchase one's very own collection of azulejos tiles to properly Portuguesify one's exterior walls of a house back home. I can only imagine the bill to pull off the entire tile treatment with tiles imported from Portugal, but there indeed be rich as there are certainly poor...

Naturally, the string-heavy and melancholy - yet nonetheless pleasant - fado music plays in certain cozier corners and alleys, piped in or played live to attract the romantics. As for *my* wistful leanings, I prefer a daily trip to Sapa's. They've got the best pastries (Queijada! Feijão! Travesseiras!) going, some made nowhere else, plus there's nothing like a coffee with a view - which is obtainable from exactly one coveted window. At this classic bakery-cafe, more than once I find myself having to ignore the random Englishman or other pretentious northern European gent, each trying to show off his cultural knowledge of local lore to a fawning and overly made-up woman of a certain âge. It reads like a period novel, or a Merchant Ivory film in its way, enforcing the necessary reality that any concept or aura of nobility moreso beholds pretension to class. I guess I can't be surprised to notice such feints and fakes here, in such a postcard quaint spot. Meanwhile, I gather from such repeated displays of vaingloriousness that no one presupposes that I actually might understand French or German from my grubby (American?) look - although I understand all too well the haughty glances sent my way at times, huffs of disregard no doubt related to the bull of my slovenly presence in this dainty china shop of a cafe.

I'm much happier to make the acquaintance of a fellow hosteler at the B&B, or someone possibly working the season at a gallery. It's from one such latter type, in the form of a young Russian woman, that I receive confirmation of what I've only heretofore been thinking while listening to all of this Portuguese spoken about me: Yes, it really does sound... Russian! And precisely for that reason have apparently some Russians decided to pick up the language, banking on that feel of familiarity. The languages are wholly unrelated, practically speaking, but the auditory rhythm is undoubtedly there, and it's quite a contrast from the soft Portuguese that the Brazilians employ. Even after a good 2-3 weeks of hearing it, I've still hardly gotten used to its surprising harshness. Admittedly, my own learning of the language to this point has been relatively pathetic - so many Portuguese speak very good English, especially the young - but in Sintra I again self-vow to begin improving my lot in that area sometime soon.

Thus, anyway, pass a cheery three days of coffee, pastries, and mostly strolling about, all quite happily achieved in equally ample measure. My eyeballs have taken in one postcard shot after another, something that admittedly could be achieved even further into the future, but the time *has* come to roll once more. I'm ready now to head due north, if nevertheless merely continuing back along the coast. Fortunately, in this unexpectedly longer pitstop I've already gone through some food and a book or two to lighten my load, a process that'll be ongoing, but that's hardly of immediate import when I'll first get to employ the gracious effect of gravity in coming down from the heights of Sintra to return to the sea. This I facilely do, plunging down the main road from Sintra to Ericeira. Being a Sunday, I recognize en route that a favorite pastime must evidently be to ride from the sea up to Sintra for a nosh or a nibble. Or at least that's what I assume from taking in a prodigious number of cyclists generally moving in packs in matching team gear, all only seemingly heading in the other direction at this later morning hour. They sure do huff and puff upward in grand style, I must admit, almost all returning my greeting with a smile.

My speedier downward trek, meanwhile, is soon ended. As I again approach the sea, I'm soon back to pumping up a very steep kilometer, suddenly back to slowly chugging upward on what's the first of what'll turn out to be two towns called Ribamar on the day. I'm in a good mood, though, especially after overtaking some cyclists in shiny gear and light bikes on the way up, the tortoise blowing by the hares, helped no doubt by being vastly more interested in having been told that there's an amazing sopa de mar to be had hereabouts. After stopping a couple of women unloading groceries from their car for just such a recommendation, it's not long before I find that "amazing" will exactly be the case. That comes after I park my bike outside Strella de Mar, still in the early tour paranoia that has me dragging some bags inside (always the trumpet!), then sitting my rest-ready rear down for a monstrous seafood soup. 'swat I'm talkin' 'bout! Although it's a large, bustling place, the waiters actually take to me and my enthusiasm for chowing down on this fantastic fare. All the other tables have groups of six or twenty, so this dehydrated cyclist must be a welcome anomaly from the looks of it. Or so I'm musing some soup and beers later, sated sufficiently to be properly wondering what exactly this cycling onward stuff is all about. Can't I just live here and get paid in bowls of soup or something?

Seems not, so leave I do, or waddle I do, or what'll I do next, I dunno. I just know that I'm heading north. Notwithstanding the voluminous soup that I've just mightily ingested, I'm still aware that I'm getting dehydrated really all too easily on this sizzler of a day, even if fortunately and invariably given a glass of water wherever I stop for one. Usually my benefactors scramble to get ice as well, giving rise to a modestly mental note: Do I look that bad? Mebbe. Probably. Indeed, after a stop for a pause in Silveira, pulling out the horn to play a bit, I find it a bit of a struggle to make the notes sound "fat". "Wa-ter! More wa-ter!" I'm gasping to myself, nevertheless receiving a few thumbs-up from surprised passersby.

On I resume my northward spinning, then, continually taking in the traditional windmills while still getting encouraging waves from the slowly dwindling number of cyclists rumbling more impressively in the other direction. I continue toward Areia Branca by first passing Lourinho, arriving at the day's second Ribamar after taking in the popular beach area at Maceira in passing. Now THIS Ribamar is a death climb. Good. God. The random driver who zips by, each slowing to look out his window at me like I'm crazy, can only shake his head as I plug and chug on up the slope. Frankly, they're entirely correct. At the top of this monster, I wheeze out a final dry cough and necessarily stop at a cafe, immediately finding that I can't even begin to down enough water and juice. A few locals inside, having their afternoon beers or wines, laugh at my pantomiming the climb with tongue hanging out. They've never done it, that much Portuguese I understand. Smart folks.

But that's to be it for the day's climbing, I think. By the time I've dropped down to the flats again, I'm ready to call it a day in its entirety, even if unsure where precisely to do so. I turn off into Areia Branca, hoping to find a hostel that I've heard of, but only locate a German surf camp instead. The young (18-25 years old?) Germans inside, all learning to surf for a week or so's holiday, only look at me with a certain amount of amazement and/or foolhardiness, true, but the good news is that they've got a keg of beer on tap and are happy to share brew for stories. I'm game, but eventually it's clear that where I really want to be - and where the hoped-for hostel is - is over in Praia de Areia Branca (White Sand Beach). That's another small number of kilometers up the road. Burp. "Well, thanks for the good German beer!", I cheerfully tell them in lousy German (I'm not drunk enough to fake the memory as anything representing fluency), wiping my lips on my salty and sweaty arm. No doubt I'm a heroic presence in their midst... or just a vagrant who's unsuspectingly rolled into some good luck. Whatever.

So off I go again, legs not terribly happy by now, but soon indeed finding the community youth hostel right on the beach. I'm about the only tourist in town, and the attending manager is extremely friendly and bored, so I land what essentially is a private dorm room. I happily shower, amble down the increasingly windy beach, and treat myself to a fine dinner of even finer fish at a mega-windowed restaurant at the shore, occupying one of only two tables bringing business to the bored staff. I nevertheless welcome the calm that now so contrasts with the busy Strella stop earlier in the day. The sunset I subsequently enjoy is no less than glorious, too, as I reflect on how the day's riding has been truly sublime. Granted, this latter musing is only achieved in retrospect, but I'm unquestionably rather successfully rolling along, enjoying a fine adventure by any reasonable measuring stick I care to know of.

Such reveries'll come to a bit of halt the next day, as the winds again pick up to an outrageous level. I'm nevertheless determined to at least press on to my next destination, Peniche. It's only in the neighborhood of a further 15km away, no great shakes, so even with heavy storm winds - which they are fully becoming, and how - I'm game. To my dismay, the approach to Peniche is a tad confusing, with bikes (and I've got the only one I see, hereabouts) being forced off and then back onto the highway, but soon enough I'm entering the historic walled city and scrounging about for a bed. I bounce between a few hostels near the information center before settling on GeekCo Hostel - mostly chosen because I won't have to take my bike up any stairs. Again I luck into my own dorm room, so there's that to pat my back for, and that's especially the case when the forecast makes it look like this punchy storm'll last for a few days - and I have no intention to battle such ferocious headwinds.

It turns out that Peniche is known for such winds, anyway, or so I'm told by the staff I quickly come to know. That'd be a young Finnish couple, some Germans, a globe-trotting Brazilian (who clues me onto looking up this thing called the Schengen Zone regarding my visa - hmmm...), and some local Portuguese. All and all they form a nice group, even if virtually to a one only all about the surfing to be had here. That latter activity apparently has much to do with the exposed nature of Peniche, essentially a niblet of rock jutting out from this already-jutting-out corner of the continent. That very prominence of this promontory alone made it worthy of having a fortress built here in the past (16th/17th century), but the fishing's always been particularly good here and that continues to this day. For those fishermen not taking a small boat out to sea, the angling's often even done from the tops of the Peniche's numerous cliffs. This is done from niches cut out of the rock, all the better to endure the frequently harassing wind a bit.

I find such things out from the staff, but it's also quite as easily obvious when I take walks around the perimeter of this almost-island - all while getting absolutely windblasted, of course. Per the usual, I make it a point to step about to gaze upon the fortress near the isthmus, plus the monastery and lighthouse at the peninsula's furthest point. Along the way, a few times I decide on also traipsing down to a few of the aforementioned fishing holes, primarily to get a reprieve from the wind before returning to this infernal hurricane and walking on a bit more. Once, while reaching in my pocket to pull out a something or other (to show the hostel owner I've just surprisingly bumped into, who's also in amazement of the wind's force on the day), I watch as a 10Euro note is suddenly sucked out of my pocket only to be picked up by the wind and blown about 1000m out to sea in an instant. Maybe only 800m; I possibly exaggerate. But that's what the howling wind here is up to in its hijinks, eliciting a comment from my new friend about how a fisherman at least will be very happy one of these days when he finds the banknote in the water. For MY part, I'm immediately converting 10 Euros into lost coffees. That'd be maybe 15 or so... and is what's known as NEW MATH.

Mostly I eschew said wind walks, however, instead hunkering down at the hostel what with the wind making things also significantly cooler temperature-wise than hoped for. The bar/lounge area out back of the hostel's building forms something of a haven, fortunately, even if it's not completely out of the sights of the wind, plus the trumpet has a way of earning beers on the house. Thank the gods that *that* works. Even better, I only find myself sharing my room one night, albeit with a snooty-seeming Frenchman who's taking a lone day off from walking to France or something. Eventually he's not so standoffish, letting down his guard to become human for a spell to allow for talking about long distance trekking of this sort. Lightweight stuff is only the start of it, he confides to me: It's actually all about the boots, the boots, and the boots - and to that end he rues the specialized new ones he's just bought especially for this trip. Apparently they're a far cry from his old standbys, which not coincidentally are now on their way to him via the mail. There's nothing like the tried and true when the blisters begin to aggregate.

These minor hiccups of climate notwithstanding or ignored, Peniche is nevertheless not quite the place I expected it to be. From the map alone, it looked like it had to be a special place with its odd geography, its walled city calling card making it seem like a cinch as an attractive stop. And, to be fair, the scenery *is* pretty, what with the cliffs and all beyond the walled city nature of this oversized rock. Yes, it *is* picturesque, but... but... it lacks... panache. No, there's no panache in Peniche. So, when the winds abate a bit after three days, I'm more than ready to move on. I've enjoyed the company, the communal dinners, especially the almost ever-buoyant spirits of the only Finish smurfette called Karollina and the soon-to-graduate local Andreia, but more interesting places beckon this traveler itchy to stretch a leg...

Places like Óbidos, as it briefly turns out, a town I'll reach after following alongside the inlet to Peniche's north and heading inland a bit. Now THIS is picturesque, I think, deciding on a pitstop for a couple hours to properly walk through its medieval streets and castle walls. (Its roots go back to the Moors and even the Romans before them, in more recent history known as a redoubt for Portuguese queens.) Here the cherry liquor is everywhere on account of its deep local roots, invariably served again in that dainty chocolate cup if now at tables set into the long alleyways here. I can't help but forcibly down one, always ready to play victim, but of course I prefer the random cafe with joe and a pastry after giving after doing such charitable samplings.

Walking the bike through the few lanes here on offer, my shoes click on the cobblestone in a lazy rhythm as I set to briefly surveying the alleys with their signs and flowers. All here is nicely angled for the tourist trade, but I can take only so much cutesiness before deciding on settling down in the tiniest of courtyards. This I locate at the medieval area's entrance, a perfect place to play a few tunes on the horn with eminently acceptable acoustics. Eventually, however, an accordion player comes into this tiny redoubt in time of mine, plopping down a chair and his gear right next to me almost almost immediately taking to rudely beginning to take over the spot. Slightly irked at this imposition without any hint of apology or compromise, I find myself first ceding the ground aurally before grudgingly packing up and getting the bike ready to move on. In the interim of our sharing the space, I've rather obviously been given the impression that if I *had* put my case out to busk, I'd have been told to leave in no time. Or so say the looks from the random authority figure walking through, all on good terms with the accordion player. Perhaps this scene of entangling interlopers and minstrels has been played out since Julius's time...

As I walk out of the walled city, meanwhile, I bump into my first other cycle tourers, an American and a German who have only recently teamed up. We exchange a little bit of info - although headed in the opposite directions - and I of course am told that I'm headed in the wrong direction (on account of the prevailing winds). I'm also loaded too heavily, surely I must realize this? Uh, yep, I kinda figured that first one out, even knew it beforehand, but the second one's a matter of preference: the trumpet stays! (Same with the books!) Nevertheless we cheerily say our goodbyes, compatriots of this country called The Road, before, only minutes later, rolling outside of town to only catch up with two more cyclists. Looks like I'm not the only one out here after all.

These two are also a good deal older than myself, both Germans, but this time also traveling in my direction - if here, fussing with their gear at the side of the road in a pullout with a view. One's happy as a clam, but the other looks like he's about ready to throw in the towel. Naturally it's the happier of the two who dutifully tells me that we're headed in the wrong direction, wind-wise, don't I know, in his almost mocking way daring me to be as adventurous as a German in taking on such a weighty challenge. I can only inwardly actually give a crap, seeing as I'm simply heading north to connect two dots, but after my dubious gear has received its inevitable once over we're joined minutes later by a young Austrian this pair's bumped into before on the day. That'd be Mattias, who's pulling a trailer behind him on an extra wheel and looking like he only moves at speeds in excess of about 100km/hr. Like me, however, I don't think he really gives a poop about the wind's prevailing patterns one way or the other, so it's not surprising when we shortly join ranks to both now head north. We've got the same destination in our sights, Nazaré.

Unsurprisingly, I slow Mattias down a little, but he makes for good company as we try to chat over surprisingly heavy traffic noise. By the time we get to Caldas de Reinhas, we're frankly in need of a stop for a long coffee if only just to be momentarily free of traffic. I've heard about this cafe in the central park, and it's there where we park our oversized rigs and get to know each other a bit. I learn how Mattias's been on a grand haul from Vienna through Italy and France, next rounding Spain before stumbling onto to an extended invite to travel with some folks by RV before now restarting in Portugal. It's been some four months of touring, and it's obvious that he's ready to call it a trip well done, but he still really likes the idea of riding all the way back home - if only to save on the airfare and the price of transporting his gear. He's obviously physically ready to go the entire way, but the mental part looks questionable when already in such a thinking pattern. In turn he gets to learn that I've done about, well, next to nothing so far.

The good news is that he's happy to have some riding company, as am I. We thus next find ourselves negotiating back roads to resume our path to Nazaré. Overall this works with nary a miscue, a successful cranking out of 65km. Between his own map info, plus my very belatedly realizing that my mini-tablet always knowing where the hell I am can be quite useful for route-finding, we arrive in the noted fishing/surfing town. As for what it's most noted for, a rusticity to be found in cohabitation with a traditional fishing village, unfortunately that's already changed to a good extent. This is immediately obvious, if only by the sheer number of modern condos overlooking the nice, deep crescent of beach to be had. Fortunately, however, the *most* famous aspect of town - that of the mysterious-seeming fish ladies of Nazaré - is still in evidence.

Back in Lisbon, Teresa warned me that I'd practically be accosted on arrival by these women, each to a one dressed in sturdy black clothes harkening out of the past. And that's exactly the case, as our bikes haven't even stopped rolling before we're descended on by a few of them just to emphatically make that very point. Do we want a room? How long do we want to stay? As it seems that one is more pushy than the rest - or perhaps it's merely her turn to have dibs, there's no knowing under the onslaught - it's with her that we're practically dragged away from the beach zone to next cut through some alleys of urban canyons to arrive at a door. She just about pushes us inside while vigorously nodding her head to actively assert how amazing her place is, a self-contained if tiny residence with a couple rooms and a kitchen area (her former home, from what we can tell). And... like now... would we please just be so kind as to give her the money already?

We try bargaining the price (30 Euros? I can't recall.) a bit, if only for proper form, but we shortly give in when she strongly argues her point and begins haranguing us over the fact that we won't find anything better. The fact is that we've been sufficiently satisfied on first glance, but there's always the thought that one should usually give these things the old college try, no? NO. Thus it is, as soon as she's successfully finished frothing at the mouth - and "successfully" is the word indeed - we find ourselves placing the money into her grubby paw. In an instant our new host switches to all smiles, giving us the key to thereupon immediately disappear. Whew. That was intense.

The *other* reason we give in so easily is that we'd been talking about those magical first few beers we've been going to have as soon as we roll into town - like since Caldas de Reinhas. So, having survived this unexpected browbeating to have our bikes sufficiently stashed, we positively dash through the nearest alleys to reclaim the beach. There's nothing in our skulls beyond heading to the nearest cafe-bar with a view of the sunset and a steady supply of beer. Super Bock, Sagres, who cares? It's all of a Euro or so! We're not alone! We're cycle touring in Portugal! So keep 'em coming! Thus we naturally recommence with exchanging war stories of the cycling road - where at least to me it's again pretty clear that Mattias is not much longer for this lifestyle, at least not for the near future. That big month break he just took, where someone took him in a van in Southern Spain and Portugal, both a convenience but more importantly one married with steady company, was such a nice change that he's finding it hard to get back in the groove of cycle touring. At this point, he's already scouting out ideas of taking a ferry in Northern Spain (Santander), possibly heading to England to next use the flats of Belgium in avoiding the Pyrenees for returning still abike to Vienna. Time will tell, but for now the thinking takes a turn with each beer.

The next day we bid Nazaré goodbye, meanwhile, although not after our token fish lady has stuck her head in the window and even peered through the mail slot to see if we've gone yet. Yeesh. The key we soon hand her disappears at shocking speed into the folds of her skirt (or vicinity - it happens in a flash) as we exit into the alleyway, slowly garnering the will to face blustery winds again. The mutual plan is to hug the coast as much as possible, which we most definitely next do, but the route we trailblaze (okay, hyperbole alert) will probably never again be achieved by man on bike. Or, rather, we'll never be able to describe or reenact it. It's quite the variety basket of routes less traveled in any event, with some roads smooth as butter while others cratered to such an extent as to make the moon laugh in pity. Bicycle paths appear and disappear in the oddest of locales, always with no appreciable warning, as we admire forest and shore such as we can. (One unanswered question: Just why are they tapping those pine-like trees? I'm guessing for resin since they ain't maples.) The heavy winds batter us as much as they just as likely completely vanish, and it's through a succession of all of the above that we suddenly reach a sandy deadend somewhere by Leirosa. By this time we've been seeing almost no one about save the odd lumberjack, but the directions given from a couple of these lonely souls seem to only deadend us further, now into a lonely power plant that steams away like a ghost or zombie in full lockdown status behind its fences. Well, isn't this special?

Ultimately it's my mini-tablet which saves our bacon, allowing for reasonable guesses as to where the road we want must lie. On we go, then, once we find it, but only after first necessarily hearing the tantalizing sound of traffic out there somewhere beyond the trees. Finally, after about 78km on the day, give or take, we've curled off the main road again to directly put ourselves back on a beach. We're now at Costa de Lavos ("Kohshta d'Lavoosh"), where we walk our bikes through deepening sand to set up camp at the south end of town. Well, that's what we do after the grabbing of required coffees at the only open cafe and snagging beers from the most forlorn convenience store this side of Portugal. Tired we are, but we don't forget priorities. At our camping refuge in a sand dune, then, numerous local dogs try with determination to hang about for scraps, but we're finally able to shoo them away back to the half-assed RV Park a long stone's throw away. Thus it's on to another evening with a gorgeous sunset, one especially so when even the mosquitoes and sand flies elect to eventually leave us alone, leaving us in turn to tend to our beers and stories. Ah, the hobo life!

Waking come daylight means a mere 10-12km of riding to Figuieira da Foz, which we arrive at by now again using the main road. True, first the traffic - and then the winds - threaten to blow us off a high, curling bridge necessarily taken to cross the river into town, but soon enough we're following the river along an esplanade located on the north side of the river's mouth to reach the town's focal point. We're full of hope of a good meal, with the usual suspects of coffee and beer to be accessed in proper succession, but all fun like that has to wait until I can finagle onward route directions for each of us at the local info center. Hah!

Trying to explain my desires to the friendly-enough woman at the counter, my Portunol is only marginally up to the task, but the good news is that Mattias already knows that the main road we've been following will quite readily take him to Porto. For my part, meanwhile, following the river upstream *should* get me to Coimbra. So, after our fruitless-if-amiable talk with the info lady who actually has no info, we finally retreat to our chosen cafe-bar where, instead of the seafood platters we've been dreaming of, we settle for a bomb of a dish called a francesinha. (I'm told some hours later by some locals in Coimbra that the effective translation from Portuguese should be "heart attack".) It's a bread-seafood-ish thing that nevertheless has ham & bacon inside as well for some kind of good measure, whilst swimming in a "spicy" (think not at all, but nevertheless tasty) sauce with a boulderfield of batatas (French fries). I positively feel the smaller of my capillaries flatly give up the ghost as my heart frantically dials 911.

Loaded with lunch and the necessary liquids of choice in our bellies, Mattias and I here part ways to our respective destinations. We're likely to see each other again in Porto - if I don't tarry too long in Coimbra - so he heads off to further battle the epic winds as I head inland and hopefully flee successfully from them. Now alone, but only experiencing nothing but flatlands under a pleasant sun and soon even enjoying a tailwind from time to time, I grin my way forward in wind-relief. I veritably fly through small towns, soon changed to only fields and water canals. "Onward to Montemor-Velho!", I determinedly and silently cry to myself, even as the potholes grow and I now see nary a soul. There's only one old French duckmobile (the classic Citroën 2CV) broken down at the side of the road - admittedly practically a Euro-cliché - plus a lonely moped headed in the other direction sporting a man literally wearing a beret and scarf - another one - to count as vehicles I share the wood with. As for pedestrians, such as they are, there's only a guy I surprise while fishing - who's somehow not wearing a red-white striped Waldo shirt. If I ever was looking for the European countryside of a 50s flick, this is it.

After about 1-1/2 hours of these Euro-still-lifes, anyway, I reach Montemor, just in time to run into a crusty old German tourer on a bike headed in the opposite direction. He's struggling with a severely leaking tire, but such a dire problem - he has no spare, no patch kit (I give him some stuff), and there's no bike shop until back in Figuiera - vanishes completely from our conversation shortly after entering it. How can we speak of such trifling essentials when he can instead ascend to a higher plane to pooh-poohing my means of travel? What, I'm not bush camping every night? My gear is not tidily strapped, I've got a trumpet? Bah! I'm obviously a poser. How dare I continue?!? I withhold from kicking him into the canal... barely, only too happy to say goodbye as soon as possible to leave him to his misery. Apparently the friendly company of Mattias was a mere aberration to this norm of flintiness marked by condescension. I hope that's never me.

What I shockingly do instead of giving this boot is decide on switching to more normal roads. It seems high time to pick up the pace toward Coimbra, which I'll now do by heading toward Taveiro ("Tahvairooh") as directly as possible. This means more hills, more people, and thus more surprised looks at this man astride a bike-tank that I am, but what they really should be doing... is giving me some water. I'm beginning to feel like I'm on a camel in the Sahara Desert, with no oasis in sight. Of course my dire situation is self-imposed nonsense, and this is amply proven when I'm some 15km shy of Coimbra.

I stop to play my horn in a covered porch at a tiny and lonely village church, only after first begging some water from a couple of old women whose houses are adjacent to my open air horn aerie. They come out with bottle after bottle of water as I plow through them, all the while trying to return the favor with some music that they might enjoy. The odd car goes by, each suddenly with a head craning out its window to verify that some numbnut is indeed playing his horn in their church's portal. In the doing, apparently some of my hijinks turn surprisingly emotional for one of the women. I'm informed that she's lost a son for only a couple years now, which she tells me while begining to cry as I do my best to try and console her. I'm not guessing he was a trumpet player or anything, but I get the feeling that he wasn't so far apart in age from myself.

With my soul a bit more complete from playing in spite of that melancholy turn to our conversation, I'm nevertheless eventually properly hydrated to take back to the road. On I plunge forward, with the km markers to Coimbra closing in... until I'm forced off the main road again in Taveiro. Argh! I've truly and rather speedily come to hate this sign, this damned placard invariably indicating at the worst time and seemingly willy-nilly which types of vehicles are suddenly prohibited from roads. They're particularly encountered, I've been noticing, when nearing urban areas - and where such roads are most useful. In general they make no sense since they occur when the shoulder is plenty wide enough and, according to the maps I've seen, they're usually of a road classification that's supposed to be legally available for bikes. Granted, I sometimes try to reason that they really don't show a proper drawing of a bike - that kinda looks like a moped, doesn't it? - but specifically prohibiting motorized bikes doesn't make any sense, either. So with repeated consultations of my mini-tablet, plus more plain old dead reckoning from the lay of the land, I eventually find myself back on the river I started following back in Foz. Soon enough, I'm rolling along just across these very waters to take in the stately hill upon which Old Coimbra rests and that, I must say, is a pretty damned impressive sight.

Extra Lisbon To Coimbra Pictures
Back to Europe 2015 Menu
Back to