The old city of Salamanca richly deserves its designation as a UNESCO world heritage site. It has many remarkable cathedrals, churches, plazas, convents, houses and museums; including the Cathedral Nuevo, the Cathedral Vieja and the Museo de Art Noveau y Art Deco. We had a fascinating two days and could have spent a lot longer here, but we must move on!
Restaurants do not open for dinner in Spain until 8pm or later. Last night, we were at the Lis Restaurant when the doors were unlocked at 8:30. When we left at 10:00, no one else had yet come in, but we were assured that it would be full “later”!
We left Ciudad Rodrigo later than hoped as there was nowhere we could get breakfast before 0900. This, we will have to get used to in Spain! Having lost two hours in the last three days (one to daylight saving time and the second through crossing the border), perhaps it was just as well.
The only way in and out of the old city is through the narrow city gates.
The N620 continued to be very quiet, with a wide hard shoulder. This was our longest distance so far on this trip, but, now on the plains of the Meseta Central, we made good time.
The wide expanse reminded us of cycling across the Canadian prairie. The land was predominately pastureland, with some cultivation (wheat?) and groves of what we now know to be the holm oak, an evergreen with many uses. The soil is a rich red. To the far south, we could see the snow-topped Sierra de Gredos.
White Storks continued to be a source of great interest for Paul and he counted 37 active nest before we reached Salamanca.
We hit our first steep hill of the day as we cycled up into the old city of Salamanca (is there a pattern here?) where we are staying in the lovely Salamanca Suite Studios (Lonely Planet).
We enjoyed the evening strolling through the Place Mayor and onto the wonderful Restaurant Vinodiario close to the Convento San Esteban.
We’re in Spain! It was strange to see the empty customs booths and immigration buildings still there as we cycled across the border. Stopping to take a photo beside the EU Spain sign, Paul felt an old unease bringing out his camera at a border crossing. It did not help that there were sniffer dogs ahead!
Our ride was an easy one, flying along on an almost flat and quiet N620. It is still cool at this time of year, at 500 m elevation, but apart from a few clouds, we had blue sky, with little wind. What a change!
We arrived in Ciudad Rodrigo before lunch and made our way up into the old walled city to the Hospedería Audencia Real, a 16th C inn and now charming boutique hotel (Lonely Planet). Between lunch in the plaza outside the hotel and a later stop for a glass of sangria, we explored and walked the perfectly intact medieval wall, with views of the countryside in all directions.
In 1812, combined forces of England and Portugal stormed the city and, after a ten day seigle, pushed out the French army who had taken it in 1810.
Wildlife notes: Two active White Stork nests in the countryside and many many more in the city.
Our last day in Portugal gave us reasonable weather and reasonable hills! The terrain reminded us of the moors of the UK, with granite, mist and lichen-wrapped trees, with the exception of the vineyards, of course! It felt a long way from Lisbon.
We checked in to our 2-star hotel in Vilar Formoso shortly after lunch and wondered why we hadn’t cycled on to Ciudad Rodrigo. The room was cold (we had ignored Trip Advisor reviews of “super frio” and “frio frio” as there were few other options) and the view from our window was uninspiring. It soon began to rain heavily. Eventually, around 6:30 we had to go in search of food, despite the rain and the fact that of the restaurants that were open on a Monday evening, most would not be open for another hour. Stopping at a pastelaria, hoping for a grilled cheese sandwich, the proprietor informed us that they were closing, but that the restaurant down the street was open. We walked into the Café Oliveira, where the proprietors were sitting watching TV, looking quite disconcerted when we entered. We realised later, that, although the door said “Aberto”, they didn’t open for dinner until 7:00. It turned out to be a most charming evening and good meal (salad, grilled Marlin and home-made cheesecake, made with cheese from Burgos) and the owner was delightful (and very impressed with our cycle trip and number of grandchildren!)
Further thoughts on the eucalyptus. Paul has been curious about the pervasive planting of eucalyptus, introduced in the later 19th C, to the point of sending a number of emails to Lois’ brother, Brian, a lumber expert. We have assumed that the indigenous forests have long since disappeared, but wondered why eucalyptus has replaced indigenous species. Although an important source of pulp now, the trees are not without controversy; their effects on the water supply and flora have drawn protests.
Thankyou, Portugal, for your boa hospitalidade! You have set the bar high for the rest of our trip, with your friendliness , history and architecture, great food, fine wines, good roads, respectful drivers and pristeen bathrooms! Até nos encontrarmos de novo.
Wildlife notes: Many days ago in the Mondego river valley we saw several pairs of Black Kites that would have returned from Africa to nest; a red fox on a quiet road two days ago and today flocks of Azure-winged Magpies.
Voyages, voyagers – so many different types! So many nationalities in the world! Many professions! Many people! So many different purposes you can give to life, In this life that, after all, deep down, is always, always the same! So many curious faces! All faces are curious And nothing stirs piety in us as does looking at people. Brotherhood is not, ultimately, a revolutionary idea. It’s something we learn through life, where we have to tolerate everything, And we find grace in what we have to tolerate, Until we nearly weep with tenderness for what we once only tolerated! Fernando Pessoa
Soon after leaving the cobbled streets and fortress of Celorico, we started an epic climb on the IP3. It was 6km of 8-10% grades. The scenery was spectacular and we happened upon a shepherd with his mountain dog, puppy and sheep beside the highway. But the winds were against us and it started to rain steadily and heavily near the top. By the time we got to São Miguel da Garda we were getting wet and cold, and with 40km still to go, we decided to call it a day.
Neither of us has much familiarity with Portuguese literature, apart from the (translated) works of José Saramago, whom we both love. One of our favourite Saramago novels was The History of the Siege of Lisbon. A couple of other books, not by Portuguese authors, but Portugal-related that we have been recalling during our ride through the country include Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal, and Night Train to Lisbon by Swiss author Pascal Mercier.
It was a stunning day, as we climbed steadily on the N16 up into mountain country. We had fine views of the snow covered Serra da Estrela and recalled our conversation yesterday with the proprietor of the VeloCafé. He told us about the great cycling in the Parque. He was also proud to know Tiego Ferreira, the world marathon mountain bike champion who comes from Viseu and frequents his store.
It was a cold ride at first, with hail ( see video) and rain, but eventually the sun came out. The inclines continue to be arduous at times. We are glad that we had planned shorter rides for the beginning of this tour – a 55km ride in the hills of Portugal feels like a 80km ride in our previous experience!
The road ran through villages with cobbled streets, which are probably easier to maintain and more sustainable than asphalt, but are somewhat reminiscent of riding on rumble strips (see video)! A particularly pretty town was Mangualde, where we stopped for lunch. Paul is enjoying the sardines!
Tomorrow will be our last ride in Portugal. Our first experience of this fascinating country has been amazing. We are now looking forward to the high (level) plains of Spain.
Old Viseu is a beautiful, well-preserved medieval city. It is the kind of place we would have loved to linger in, exploring narrow cobbled streets and the city’s historical and architectural richness, not to mention the wonderful food and elegant Dão wines. We did visit the Sé (13thC cathedral), the 18thC Igreja da Misericórdia and the Museu Grão Vasco, which houses important works by Viseu’s own Vasco Fernandes (Grão Vasco). We also spent a lot of time in pastelarias, just trying to warm up!
Coffee in Portugal is a revelation! Wherever we have gone, we have had excellent espresso. Apparently, during the time of the Salazar dictatorship, most coffee came from the erstwhile colonies, such as Brazil, and the people gained a taste for a stronger, more bitter coffee. Delta coffee is, for example, available in even the smallest communities, where it is made with classic espresso machines with fine results.
We have also tasted many great Portuguese cheeses made from the milk of cows, sheep and goats. One of special note, Azeitão, is made from curds thickened with vegetable rennet derived from artichoke thistles (see photo).
Parkinson’s note: according to research by Dr Joachim Ferreira et al, the prevalence of PD in Portugal is in the order of 180/ 100,000 total population (2400/100,000 for those >50yrs). This is similar to the estimate for Canada of 1:500 people and seems to be in line with other estimates. Dr Ferreira and his colleagues thought that because of the high prevalence of the LRRK-2 gene in Portugal the prevalence might have been higher. This gene is prevalent in North Africa and its presence in Portugal may be related to the Moorish occupation of the country centuries ago. Given the length of time that those with PD are affected by symptoms, the prevalence of the disease is significant.
There is a dusting of snow on the rooftops in Viseu seen from our hotel window this morning! Again (see LEJOG 2015), we have gone from cycling in 25C to 1C over the course of a week! At least, we have now solved the problem of wet feet (Gore-tex socks) and hands (Sealskinz and Gore-tex waterproof gloves).
The route from Coimbra to Viseu was lovely, following the N110 and N2 along the Rio Mondago, past farmyards and groves of pine, eucalyptus, orange and olive trees, fragrant in the early morning mist. Our only cycling challenges were in the stretch between Raiva and Santa Comba Dão, where we weren’t allowed on the IP3, so had to find a longer, hillier alternative.
It took us a while to locate the Ecopista Do Dão, an old railroad recently converted into a wonderful 49km walking/cycling path between Santa Comba Dão and Viseu. The start/end of the trail is near the railway station for Santa Comba Dão, across the Rio Dão (a tributary of the Rio Mondago). Our B&B near Santa Comba Dão, the Vale Martinho, located a few kms south of the trail (straight up!), was a 200-year old stone farmhouse, with a modern addition. The owner, Faizal, moved to Portugal from Mozambique with his family when he was thirteen. His grandparents were originally from Goa in India. Faizal also runs a restaurant near the B&B, where he serves Indian and African dishes, as well as Portuguese. His plan is to move the restaurant to the B&B, which would be primarily for guests and small parties with reservations. We had an interesting conversation about a number of subjects, including the Portuguese economy, the EU and Brexit.
We woke to the sound of heavy rain, which was almost monsoon-like as we cycled up to the restaurant for breakfast. We could feel the temperature dropping, later registering 1.6C on our Garmin. Back on the Ecopista Do Dão, we had an easy, if chilly, ride, with frequent showers verging on freezing rain. We stopped for lunch and to warm up at a restaurant in the old Farminhão Station. We should note here that, in many of the smaller restaurants, there is a fixed menu, not necessarily written down, and primarily meat focussed. In this case, a quick look at the menu suggested no fish or vegetarian options. Having a bit more confidence now, we asked if we could have tosta mista sin carne (toasted ham and cheese without the ham!) e salada. The owner suggested we might also like the sopa de peixe (today was Swordfish), just being prepared, which was delicious and worth waiting for!
Just after checking in to our hotel in Viseu, it began to snow! We will take a couple of days off to enjoy this ancient city before heading east towards Spain. Hopefully, the weather will improve!
ps: For those who have inquired, the Right to Dissent is now available in print on Amazon (with many thanks to our son, Christopher, for help in formatting and e-publishing). This is not a sales pitch, as Lois does not receive royalties (the book was written as a pro bono project for Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada) and nor does LRWC make a profit on sales, as it is priced so as to be as accessible as possible. But, we would appreciate spreading the word to those who might benefit from a greater understanding of human rights concerning the right to protest.
We started our morning wanderings with espressos at Nicola Cafe, before visiting the Romanesque Old Cathedral, Sé Velha, built in the 12thC and with its 13thC Gothic cloisters. Also designed to be a fortress against a Moorish threat (Coimbra had been a Moorish stronghold for centuries, but were evicted by Christians in 1064).
Lunch at Maria’s again, and then the afternoon spent touring the campus of the University of Coimbra, founded in 1290, one of the oldest continuing universities in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were particularly impressed by the Old (Joanine) Library, with its rosewood, ebony and jacaranda tables, frescoed ceilings and gilt chinoiserie bookshelves, stacked with 300,00 ancient texts. It has a colony of resident bats that feed on insects that threaten the pages of the books. Passing by above the Ceremonial Hall (Sala dos Capelos), we noticed that a PhD oral defense was going on (in English). The candidate was in academic robes and was facing up to 6 enrobed jurers. We couldn’t hear enough to identify the subject, but did pick up a reference to “a rise in populism” and its relationship to a “tension between liberalism and democracy”. Very topical!
We ended the day at a Fangas, a tapas bar, where we had a superb selection of dishes, including Rabaçal cheese, bean and mushroom stew, chestnuts and caraméliséd onions, with glasses of excellent local wine from the Baga grape.
The morning’s cycle was on an undulating highway, more like cycling across Canada – noisier and less pleasant than the hilly Portuguese countryside, but quicker and easier! It was cooler and we missed the aroma of eucalyptus, pine and flowering trees that have accompanying us.
We had booked a couple of nights at the Casa Pombal, a quirky B&B at the top (!) of the old town. Fortunately, we were able to follow a road up to the top, so avoided the narrow, twisting cobbled lanes of the old town. Paul had to carry our bikes upright down a narrow staircase to an outside courtyard.
We spent the afternoon and evening wandering the streets of this fabled university city, sampling meringues and attending a Coimbra Fado concert at the Fado ao Centre. In Coimbra, Fado is performed only by male students or alumni of Coimbra university. One of the well-known songs performed was a Farewell song for the graduating students of law in 1989, the year Lois graduated from law school! Dinner was a feast of fresh and innovative Portuguese vegetarian food at Maria Portuguesa, a recommendation from our B&B.
Looking back on our first week in Portugal and first week back on our bikes, we are now beginning to get into a rhythm. As perhaps overly emphasized (!), the hills have certainly been a little tough at the beginning of a trip, but our experience in Portugal has been so positive. People are extremely friendly and helpful and welcome our awkward attempts to communicate. (We can order coffee and egg custard tart : dois cafés (doish cafesh) e doish pasteis, por favor.) Others go out of their way to help, such as the couple yesterday who saw us on a pullout beside the IC2 and reversed to ask if we needed help. We explained that we were looking for an alternative route to Pombal that would avoid this very busy shoulder-less highway. The driver patiently worked out a cross-country route and his partner, who spoke English, wrote out each of the town names along the route for us. We didn’t think to ask their names or give them our card until they pulled away, but we are very grateful for the kindness of this couple.
The countryside is beautiful, especially at this time of year as trees and bushes are flowering. The route since Lisbon has been primarily rural, passing small farms, orchards and forests. The history and architecture are fascinating and the food, always so important to long-distance cyclists, is delicious. We are enjoying trying wines from different regions of Portugal, and, of course, the port is a regular feature, particularly here in Coimbra.
Our cycle legs are improving and we will need them for the big hills on the way to Spain. We are encouraged by the donations people have made to Parkinson Society British Columbia so far and more will help spur us along!
Parkinson’s thought for today: cycling has been shown to be an effective form of exercise even for those who have severe walking difficulties. The attached article and videos sent to us by Joaquim Ferreira illustrate this dramatically.
As a young child, Lois was fascinated and enchanted by the story of Fatima in which, in 1917, three local shepherd children: Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, saw visions of a lady since believed to be the Virgin Mary, known as Our Lady of Fátima (Nussa Señora). The image of this event as retained since Lois’ Catechism classes, was of an intimate experience in the countryside. So, approaching the present day Sanctuary was somewhat disconcerting. It is an expansive open plaza, with chapels and facilities to accommodate the 4 million pilgrims who visit each year. Although tastefully done, with a beautiful basilica and contemporary sculptures and buildings, the man-made structures seemed to overwhelm the single oak tree still standing in the sanctuary, where one of the visitations took place. Still, it is a quiet and solemn place, with beautiful buildings, and we could only imagine what it must be like when it is filled with pilgrims. We were impressed by the number of people there today who were visiting outside the regular pilgrimage days of the 12th and 13th of the month from May until October.
Santarem to Fátima – 60km (aka the hilly pilgrimage)
Given Lois’ Catholic upbringing, a ride through Portugal without visiting Fatima seemed, well…sacrilegious. By the third long hill, we were feeling significantly less devoted.
Fuelled with an espresso and cappuccino at Pascoalini Geladaria near the hotel, we left Santarem cycling back down the very steep Rua Alexandre Herculano (N3). Winds continued to be a problem throughout the day, but the sunshine provided some compensation..
Cycling through Pernes, we detoured to do a ride/walk through the farmers’ market, which was busy, with lots of stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, olives, salted cod, bedding plants and fruit trees. One stall was smelling large round sausage-like donuts called Farturas, which we shall have to try.
After the first very long climb, we stopped for lunch of grilled perch and onions, fries and salad in a small restaurant where a midday meal, with beer/wine and coffee seemed to be the norm., at least for the men! We then debated the route (longer, flatter option against the wind or shorter steeper option with less wind) and got advice from the proprietor, which we were not sure was informed. We chose the shorter route. The next two hills were really steep (9% at times), but at least the wind had dropped or was behind us. We were grateful for the relative flat final kms into Fátima . Our hotel is near the Sanctuary which we will visit in the morning.
On recommendations from our trusty Lonely Planet guide, we visited the Convento de S. Francisco and the calm of it’s cloisters, the Mercado Municipal, the Jardín Portas do Sol with fine views of the Tejo, the Iglesia de Nossa Senhora da Marvila with walls covered in tiles (azulejos), and the Igelsia de Nossa Senhora da Graça with it’s gothic arches. The “discoverer” of Brazil, Pedro Álvares Cabral, is buried here.
Many of the traditional dishes in Portugal include fish, particularly cod (bacalhau). Lunch today at the Taberna Sebastião was breaded fried shad and açorda de alto – a thick bread stew, which today included fish eggs. One of our favourite dishes so far has been cod cakes and of course, the pasteis. We also discovered a regional cake, Pamilhos, which we experienced today in gelato!
Parkinson’s note for today: Our story was aired on Portuguese TV!
Other observations about the CNS which we neglected to mention yesterday – There is an emphasis on involving family members or caregivers in their programs. The apartments are set up to accommodate a couple, with kitchen facilities. The residential program is designed to enable individuals to practice applying the techniques and strategies learned from the respective rehabilitation programs in everyday life situations during their stay. As noted earlier, the importance of exercice, both physical and neurological, was evident. Although a new facility, CNS attracts people from counties around the world, including Canada. The centre receives no government funding.
The ride today was pleasant, although tiring. A constant headwind (now from the east) and the hilly terrain continue to challenge our still-developing muscles and stamina. At one point we had to pedal down a 7% descent! However, the sunshine and pleasant countryside made it an enjoyable ride. On leaving Caldas da Rainha, we bumped along cobblestones through the old town and past the hospital which now houses the thermal baths of the town. We could not avoid a steep climb out to the main road to pick up the N114.
The road meandered through farmland with ancient vineyards and orchards of olive, pine and fruit and nut (?) trees just beginning to bud with pink and white blossoms. On one roadside break we realized that we were standing by a cork tree that had been partially harvested. We had noticed cork products in the shops in Lisbon but had never seen a live tree!
Our approach into Santarém somehow got us on to a busy twinned highway (N3), which we rapidly exited to climb and climb, eventually walking our bikes up to the hilltop city. Looking down over the river Tejo (Tagus) and the plains to the south, it struck us that not all cycling in Portugal needs to be uphill! As we plan to visit Fatima next, however, the hills will continue a bit longer. We are taking a day off in Santarém.
Wildlife notes: two active white stork nests. One on an old palm tree and the other on an old chimney.
After breakfast in the Campus cafeteria, we were given a tour of the facility by 3 of the staff members – a physiotherapist, speech language pathologist and the head nurse. Opened just three years, the CNS is a unique facility. CNS offers a Movement Disorders Unit and an inpatient Neurorehabilitation Unit for people with PD and other movement disorders, e.g. Huntington’s Chorea. A brochure indicates, “Based on the current level of evidence and clinical expertise in neurology and movement disorders, the CNS rehabilitation program places its focus on building up disease-specific work from core rehabilitation areas, such as: physical capacity, transfers, body posture, reaching and grasping, balance, gait, cognition, speech and swallowing.”
Although clearly not accessible to everyone, being privately run, it provides the kind of multidisciplinary programs that should be available to all persons with PD. There is a capacity for 80 people and a number have decided to stay permanently. There are currently around 60 residents. Payment is private but some services may be covered by insurance. We were told that a residential stay of a month, with all rehab programs and other services, including meals, would run around €4,000-€5,000. The staff we met were young, enthusiastic and very well informed. It is important to them that they are able to provide specialized services primarily for PD patients and persons with other movement disorders. There are 7 physiology and 5 speech language pathologists, as well as occupational therapists, psychologists and other professionals. They offer programs for day patients as well as for those there for a few days or weeks. Research is a fundamental part of the work relating not only to therapeutic initiatives but very importantly on rehabilitation techniques. It helps that there is a well equipped gym, pool and extensive grounds for exercise. The staff emphasized that the facility is designed to be attractive and comfortable and non-institutional. It has the air more if a resort or spa, rather than a health facility.
After a group photo with the staff and Dr. Ferreira, we headed off to Caldas da Rainhas, via the medieval town of Obidos, where we had been told there was a chocolate festival. Unfortunately, the festival was only on at the weekends, but we did sample a Portuguese tradition – Ginja (sour cherry liqueur), served in a tiny chocolate cup.
The wind was against for a second day and tomorrow, as we head east, it is turning into a headwind again!
Wildlife Note: A buzzard and several white storks wheeling high in the air presumably returning from Africa.
We had been approached by a reporter from SIC, a national TV company, to do a feature on our trip (organized by Dr. Ferreira). We arranged to meet Sofia and her cameraman in the Praça do Marquês de Pombal. This plaza celebrates the politician who led the reconstruction of the city after the devastating earthquake of 1755.
With the help of Google Maps and new bike paths, we managed to navigate our way out of Lisbon without difficulty, mercifully avoiding the impossibly steep hills we had been traversing by foot all weekend.
The TV crew filmed us leaving the city and then regularly along the way. They would pass us and wait for action shots by the side of the road. When we stopped for coffee and lunch, they joined us and we had engaging conversations not only about the trip and Parkinson’s Disease (PD), but also about Portugal. After interviewing us us in a park in Loures, we headed off again and they left us soon after. We are looking forwarding to seeing the story.
The weather was sunny and warm, but a brisk north headwind and some very long hills made it a tiring first day ride. Arriving at CNS (situated at the top of a steep and winding road), we were made very welcome by Dr. Joachim Ferreira and accommodated in one of the very spacious apartments used for short-term patients and visitors.
Joachim and his wife, Natalie, were gracious hosts, treating us to a lovely meal in their home. Our conversation was wide ranging and gave us some insight into the history, language and economic situation of the country. We also discussed PD, of course. We look forward to learning more about the CNS tomorrow morning.
We have really enjoyed our brief sojourn in Lisbon. On Friday, we climbed the Torre de Belém, saw the Jerónimos Monastery and savoured pastéis de nata nearby. Today, we found “cornucopia” with the same delicious filling in a pastelaria near the Cafe A Brasileira.
This establishment was the favourite haunt of the famous and fascinating Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, whose bronze statue watches over the patio.
The Castelo de São Jorge overlooks the city and yesterday we ascended in an ancient tram to see the finely preserved defences.
In the evening, we entered the Barrio Alto and after sampling Portuguese wines, went to the Tasca Do Chico for tapas and Fado music. The instrumentation and singing is unique and evocative. Ever since we saw a documentary about the music a few years ago at the Vancouver International Film Festival, we have been eager to experience it first hand and were not disappointed. The bar was overflowing by the time we left.
As usual, we have been sampling the espresso bars and discovered two that we scored at 9 and 10/10! This morning we visited the Museum Nacional de Arte Contemporânea and saw very interesting examples of Portuguese art which reflected trends in Europe in the last century. Lois was particularly taken by the works of Lourdes Castro.
Tomorrow is Day 1 and we will be cycling north to Torres Vedras to visit the Campus Neurológico Sénior , where we will be meeting with and hosted by Dr Joachim Ferreira, a neurologist specializing in Parkinson’s Disease and other movement disorders. We will spend the night there in the Campus residences.
We are in Lisbon! It had been a hectic last few weeks refining our itinerary, getting our bikes serviced and ready for the trip, final trips to the icebreaker store, Wanderlust, West Point Cycles and On the Rivet, sending out posters to promote Parkinson’s fundraising to our favourite businesses (thank you, Terra Breads Cafe for posting!), readying our condo for rental (lease to be signed imminently) and having a final Parkinson’s planning meeting with Marg and Allan. We said goodbye to family and friends, including a trip to Prince George to see Lois’ 96-year old mom and a fun weekend getaway to Harrison Hot Springs with our daughter, son-in-law and 3 grandchildren. For those we did not get to see, we will be in touch, virtually. As always, it is difficult to say goodbye to our children and grandchildren, who we will miss dearly, but whose support for these adventures we appreciate enormously.
We left Vancouver for Paris on the morning of February 24, 2017, to visit our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in Meudon-la-Forêt, while awaiting the birth of our fifth grandchild. A beautiful boy (our second grandson) arrived March 2. We are still over the moon!
Finally, it was time to get on the road. It was an easy cycle from Meudon to Montparnasse, picking up a cycle trail from Châtillon into the city. We soon got used to riding our bikes “fully loaded” again and it felt good to be on them. We are both carrying even less weight than on previous trips, with Lois having replaced her 40 litre panniers with 30 litre ones. One way we have achieved this is by choosing clothes that can double as both cycle and casual wear. Lois is not convinced, however, that she will be able to cycle through Europe without acquiring a pair of frivolous shoes!
On the recommendation of our son, Chris, we had a delicious meal at a Breton crêperie near our hotel. Our hunt for the ultimate espresso began again the following morning at Caffé Juno (7/10). We must learn that to truly assess a roast – no milk.
We left Paris in a small 2nd class TGV carriage with our bikes strapped next to us. A great arrangement.
We were concerned about catching our connection in Irun 6 hours later (20 minutes to change trains) and became even more anxious when we read the small print in Spanish on our ticket. Two bikes are allowed in a sleeper on the Trenhotel, but they must be dismantled and boxed. Arriving in Irun, we had given up the idea of confronting the policy, but on the platform by the train with a few minutes to spare, we were waved on and into our compartment. We weren’t sure what we were being asked to do by the train attendant, who kept shouting “Montez”?, but we managed to close the door and put down the beds by removing the wheels and taking off the handlebars, which seemed acceptable.
Dinner was next, but sitting at the bar soon after departure, we were informed by the same attendant that the fish dish was “finished”, as were all the other main courses, despite the fact that we understood the train began in Irun, so soup, cheese, Spanish wine and slices of pineapple sufficed! We had a pleasant conversation in French with an older couple who seemed to be dividing their time between France and Portugal.
Arriving at Lisboa Santa Apolónia station at 7:30 am, after a rather interrupted night, we assembled our bikes on the platform and walked them through Alfama, given the level of construction activity. An espresso stop helped get us up the very steep cobbled sidewalks of the city. At the bottom of a very long set of steps, a restauranteur came out to direct us up a more bike-friendly route, and at the top of a another particularly steep hill, Lois was aided by an armed officer on duty outside of the HQ of the national guard!
Our apartment is a great find (Lonely Planet) and close to the Copenhagen Coffee Lab (espresso 9/10), which also serves (cold) oatmeal and full cream yoghurt with homemade granola for breakfast. Later, while Lois was having a massage, Paul visited the Museu da Água where an aqueductal system built in the 18C provided water from outside the city. After a late lunch, we purchased bread, cheese, wine and pastries for an al fresco meal on the terrace behind our apartment.
After the chilly, windy and rainy weather in Vancouver and Paris, we were looking forward to warmer weather in Lisbon, but the high of 25C even took the locals by surprise.
We will spend the weekend seeing some of the sights of this charming city, before heading off on our bikes on Monday.