March 19, 2017. Day 6

Pombal to Coimbra – 40km

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.

Torre da Contenda

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