Tour Days 7, 8 & 9: A Triple-Header in Northern Portugal

Having had flighty wi-fi and/or nonexistent chair and desk (we slightly aging folks do so prefer typing in comfort) the past few days, I’ll intro some more photos here in Ponte de Lima, after having traveled to and through several towns with really long names.

The country has been in the world news the past few days for awful reasons, and the smoke from fires that have killed over 60 still hang in the air. It’s the third day of national mourning, and the sky is a very poignant reminder of those who lost their lives.

Still, we live and ride on. Day 7 of my tour was from my weekend spot in Braga to the coast at Viana do Castelo. Day 8 was a beach-filled trip down the coast to Povoa de Varzim on the northern outskirts of Porto, and today’s Day 9 crossed back into the hills and back down to the River Lima at Ponte de Lima.

Day 7

The highlight of this day was getting to tiny Parada de Gatim somewhat up the spine of hills that split Braga and environs from the coast. I stopped for directions, as my Michelin map was inconclusive on whether Gatim was on one tiny road or another. A halting conversation between No Portuguese (me) and No English (pastelaria owner) informed me I was on the “wrong road” when it came to shaving a few km off my ride through the hills.

No worries, and despite an attempt to “summit” by cutting back, I ended up taking the long way home. Seriously, having the chance to ride a few more kilometers on these roads is no chore, especially when one has eschewed the need for 100 km days and the difference is going from 45 to 55 km.

IMG_2341I forgot to mention in my Braga experiences that I was told about a silly ceremony, yes atop the already silly “Black Pig Race,” in which people go around bopping each other on the head with little hammers (yes, ala Maxwell, but without the death/murder aspect, or so I’m told).

IMG_2343This is the Portuguese equivalent to the German grocery sauerkraut aisle photo. I can report I tried bacalhau and found its saltiness beyond edibility. Beyond comprehension.

IMG_2352Site of the language-impaired discussion on whether Parada de Gatim was on one road or the other, so to speak.

IMG_2355

One thing Portugal largely doesn’t do is cold milk. Stores, big or small, don’t sell cold milk, and the only unheated milk I’ve had at a pension/hotel has been luke cold. Then I discovered “Ucal” in Freixo. I can report that almost immediately after downing this decently cold chocolate milk I swept down over 500 meters of glorious elevation in a series of curves straight out of the Tour de France.

It was because of the chocolate milk, obviously.

IMG_2361Note train passing under the same bridge I rode into Viana. Great bridge, but a bit better for cars, and trains, than cyclists. I tried to find a good train-like “under” bike/ped option, but instead it’s just a fairly narrow “sidewalk” along this singular connection between Viana and points south.

IMG_2370But Viana itself was very interesting, with a solid beach and this fancy wine/port store that included port at monthly car payment prices. I send this one to my wife and her fox hunting friends.

 

Day 8

Today had been planned “special” for almost a week. A trip properly down the coast, taking advantage, for once, of the dominant north winds that invariably caress the southbound rider. Something like 95% of bike touring along the Portuguese coast is southbound. I’ve been a real, if merely underinformed, rebel going south-to-north.

Today would be different. Today I would, yes, ride like the wind.

So..wait for it…the wind chose today to come from the south. Nothing with any force, mind you, just enough to press more hot air up from Hell or Morocco or wherever the really stinking hot weather is ’round these parts.

Still, the ride did feature stopping at four beaches and ending up in Varzim, staying at a place less than 500 meters from another beach. There is that.

IMG_2398Still in Viana, it’s early and time to sell a few fish along a main street. Prices and selection are best at 7:30 in the morning, evidently.

IMG_2402So many beaches, I can’t recall which one is pictured here, along with still unnamed bike. It’s a tough job, this bicycle touring….

IMG_2405Not shown in the bike/sea photo above is the large group of very young schoolchildren out on a late Spring Semester field trip at the beach. Yes, in Portugal teachers just “give up” on instruction late in the year and take the kids to the “Uncle Cliff’s,” so to ABQ speak, by going to a beach like this.

IMG_2408And here’s “European Surfing Destination (there are signs)” Suave Mar in Esposende. Apparently, Germans get their Summer vacations before other nations, and they dominant the scene here in mid/late June.

IMG_2417And like many other beach communities, Esposende has a significant stretch of cycle track between beach and main road. Although it must be said this might be the single most beautiful stretch of such I’ve yet seen.

IMG_2420I note and apologize for a lack of photos in Varzim. It’s a pretty place, made even prettier by “real” cops on bicycles.

Day 9

Perhaps the best day, all around, so far. A 34-mile ride with just enough hill and heat to offer a challenge, terminating at a lovely town that’s damn close to 1,000 years old. Another positive was that while this ride followed three Estradas Nacionais (the closest thing to highways that bicycle can legally ride), only one of them had fairly dense traffic, and the majority of the ride was spent going up and down lovely hills in light traffic.

It was hot, and a bit hilly, but I guess this is where my Albuquerque existence pays off. I can do hot. And hills at 500 or 600 meters, absolute tops, are more easily conquered when one lives at almost 1600 meters.

If I may offer one rather proselytizing piece of advice regarding heat, hills and Portugal (or, really, any place with heat, hills, and even headwind): Bicycle touring with these elements only enhances the experience. It certainly may not seem so, reading this blogpost from the air-conditioned comfort of one’s home, but as an English gent riding alongside me some days back, my second of actual touring, told me: “You get used to the headwind.”

At the time, days back, I recall cursing under my breath at the gall of this gentleman’s mental equipoise with windy adversity. Now, days later, I “get” what the guy was saying and more importantly thinking. Touring is good for things like that…eventually.

IMG_2421But wait, here’s a photo from Varzim, as one of their streets is named about a guy named Albuquerque.

IMG_2428Another photo for my wife. Notably, nobody was riding this “Centro Hipico” either, at least when I rode by.

IMG_2433Needless to say, I’ve seen about 54,875 such churches while riding in Portugal, but it’s worth mentioning that they are lovely buildings, most of them.

IMG_2434If I told you how incredibly nice the Portuguese have been to me, complete lack of language knowledge on my part included, you would never believe me. This terrific gentlemen helped me navigate the highway transitions in Barcelos, most likely choosing to ride out of his way to help, on a hot day with multiple stops and language-thwarting conversations. He told me his name, but I can’t hope to spell it properly. Thanks, fellow cyclist!

IMG_2437And what the fine aforementioned gentleman told me was to ride past the football stadium to find the road to Ponte de Lima. And here we are taking a look at all the things you CANNOT bring to the stadium for a match. Remember: No hammers allowed

IMG_2483The medieval “Ponte” across the River Lima in Ponte de Lima.

IMG_2477A small market near the square in Ponte de Lima. I haven’t seen quite the Portuguese market culture found in some other European countries, but I just might not be looking in the right places.

 

IMG_2455Walking along the river under a lovely canopy of what are called “plane trees” in Europe. I do believe we call this particular variety a “sycamore.”

 

IMG_2454Capturing the impressive canopy of these trees planted in 1901 is difficult, given my camera skills.

IMG_2492Had my fanciest hotel stay yet, by far, including services such as room service, a bigger breakfast (with truly cold milk!) and even signage directed one to the hotel!

IMG_2475If you look very closely, you’ll notice that very special American accommodation: A pitcher of ice cubes, dainty tongs included. Adjacent, and also on ice, was the long sought-after cold milk. Groceries don’t sell milk cold, evidently as a means to prevent milkaholics from immediately imbibing at the grocery front doors (which I surely would have done multiple times by now).

 

IMG_2453Walking one of the many Caminho de Santiago trails is quite popular here. A large group kicked off their walk with many smiles and photos early this morning. They must have enjoyed the fact temperatures have dropped from the low-90s to mid-70s, a trend expected to continue. I, too, am pretty damn happy about that.

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