Quiet roads led us to the town of Castelo Branco, where we stopped a bit earlier than normal for an Easter Monday lunch and, less excitingly, to wash our growing pile of dirty clothes from a couple days of wild camping. The route leading to Castelo Branco was slightly hard work – a 2.5km downhill stretch followed by a solid 5km climb, and then several smaller ups and downs – but the views over the mountains and the river Tejo made up for the sweat. The area would be good training for anyone who wanted a few challenging hills, but nothing quite so trying as the Alps. We got lost in Castelo Branco trying to find the centre of the town but, as often happens, our bad sense of direction landed us on the doorstep of a mom-and-pop restaurant filled with locals, always a sign of a good meal to come. (more…)
You Are Viewing Portugal
We’ve had a lot of rainy mornings lately (maybe a sign of what we can expect for our springtime cycle ride across Europe) and this morning the drops started hitting our tent around dawn. As we rolled out we were bracing ourselves for a wet day but surprisingly enough the rain held off and sometimes the clouds even cleared to let a bit of sun through. We reached the town of Fronteira just as the church service was about to start. The central square around the church was filled with men, just standing around and watching the activity around them, which of course meant about thirty heads turned in our direction. As bike tourists we must sometimes look like aliens to local people with our helmets, sunglasses, lycra and bicycles padded out with bags. (more…)
We woke to a slight chill in the air; something we are slowly readjusting to as we work our way north after a winter in the warmer parts of the world. The daytime temperatures are just right for cycling but the cool mornings don’t do much to encourage us out of our sleeping bags. We snuggled in for a few extra minutes of sleep before Andrew got brave enough to get out and make the coffee, in his cycling shorts no less! Friedel was not quite so courageous and instead reached for her long cycling leggings, something we haven’t dug out from the bottom of the panniers in quite some time. After breakfast we set out to explore Évora, hoping to see just a few of its 24 amazing attractions including a Roman-Gothic cathedral, a Roman temple, an aquaduct, several palaces, churches, monasteries and museums. It would be perfectly possible to spend a week trotting up and down the cobbled lanes of Évora to see all the sights, but we took just a few hours to see the highlights. The aquaduct stuck in both of our minds for the houses built into its arches and the Roman temple, built in the Acropolis, was also impressive. Sightseeing done, we climbed the hill to Évoramonte, about 30km outside of Évora, and took in the view of the surrounding countryside from the peak, before gliding down through fields filled with sheep to the town of Estremoz. A left turn put us on track for a two day ride to our next major town, Castelo Branco, which we won’t likely get to until Monday. In between we hope to ride through plenty more vineyards and, if we’re lucky, find a restaurant serving a delicious Easter lunch.
“We are not thinkers, los espanoles, we don’t stay at home and think like the Germans; that’s why we have practically no philosophers. We like to be out where it’s sunny and interesting, where we can see what’s going on. When we go to other countries, the streets look empty to us. We think, where is everybody? Well, they’re at home, thinking! But we don’t think very much. Perhaps we should think a little more.” — Angel Vilalta
That quote came from a book Andrew is reading about Picasso. Although it refers to the Spanish people, we think it could equally be about the Portuguese. As we wound our way through rural Portugal today, using the back roads to find our way from the town of Beja to the World Heritage city of Évora, we passed through several small villages, their common squares filled with men watching the world go by. They were never doing anything in particular, often not even talking to one another and certainly not playing petanques as is the obsession of French men. Despite their quiet stance, they became surprisingly animated if we waved or shouted hello as we passed on our bikes. Their hands flew into the air to return our greeting and they shouted words of encouragement, or at least we imagined they were encouraging, we don’t really understand Portugese! The drivers urged us on as well, honking and giving us the thumbs up sign as they flew by. Between the villages we mostly had the roads to ourselves as we rode through groves of olive trees and acres of vineyards. Just before lunch we stopped for a history lesson at the Roman ruins of São Cucufate. A villa was build on the site in the middle of the 1st century, then was destroyed to make way for a second in the middle of the 2nd century. Again the villa was destroyed and replaced by a more luxurious version. Today there are only a few walls left of the third villa but it was impressive nonetheless to see the rooms where wine and oil were stored, the bath house, temple and even a swimming pool! After eating our lunch to the tune of bells ringing from the necks of several dozen grazing sheep, we dodged rainstorms throughout the afternoon before stopping in the town of Aguiar for a coffee. The price of a coffee is starting to seem a bit like a limbo contest: how low can you go? This little bar, filled with men playing dominoes, only wanted 0.60 cents for a café au lait, the cheapest we’ve found anywhere in Europe. Near 6pm we finally rolled into Évora and found the campground, a little way from the centre.
Dear readers, since it’s Easter we though we’d share a little treat with you in this video from the road. The other day we had a bit of an adventure, trying to get water from a Portugese water fountain. Andrew came off rather the worse for wear and we took this video to warn off other cyclists. We hope you get a little chuckle imagining the scene when Andrew first tried to fill his water bottle; Friedel certainly laughed watching from a safe distance!!