Last day in Lisbon 

My flight was scheduled to depart at 2100 hours so I walked towards the eastern point of the Lisbon peninsula ending up at Belem. It is here there are two iconic structures of Lisbon. 

   
   
As well the original coal fired electricity station serving Lisbon has been turned into a remarkable Museum of Electricity! Well worth a visit for the engineers of this world 

 
    
 
And finally the inevitable Cathedral and monastery at Belem. This had by far the longest queue to gain entry! I needed but little excuse to remain outside. 

   
   

Summary of physical activity of the holiday 

One week cycling average

60 km a day

800m ascending a day 

Two week of walking

27 Flights climbed/day

18 Kilometres/day

Alcohol 

0.25 glasses / day 

Obidos

The final and fourth destination on the day tour was Obidos. It is the closest ancient walled town to Lisbon. It is thus a Mecca for tourist buses from the capital. However on this day it seemed relatively relaxed. It is very well maintained and not as potentially garish or gaudy as one may anticipate. Granted the predominant shops were alternating restaurants with arts and crafts boutiques. The other rather ubiquitous offering were stalls selling “nips” of Portuguese cherry liqueur in an edible chocolate thimble  for 1 euro.

I could not but fail to compare this commercialised walled town to the several relatively untainted medieval villages during my week of cycling 

   
   

   
   

Navare 

The third port of call on our day trip, this is  fishing town with both an “old part” perched on the hilltop and a Gold Coast development down below with a wonderful expanse of water and high rises to the edge almost. I had lunch at a local cafe and ordered the fish stew! It was monstrous in quantity and acceptable in quality!  

see I told you it was like the Gold Coast

 
 

nuts by the sea with pigeon droppings


  

these delightful seaside houses in the older part and abandoned!!

 
 

roasted chestnuts without pigeon droppings!

  

the town square

 

Sintra

This UNESCO heritage listed site is sbout 30 km from Lisbon easily reached by suburban train and well worth the visit. It is imperative that one arrives by public transport as yet again motor vehicles and lumbering gigantic tourist buses cause catastrophic gridlock and by walking everywhere one can easily beat the bus to any destination! However as for all Portuguese UNESCO sites it involves climbing. My iPhone motion sensor informs me I have climbed the equivalent of 137 storeys and at this point walked about 24km. 
   
 
There are three significant sites/places of interest: a Moorish castle, the oldest structure built around the 10 century by the Moors. It is reached by a long climb (obviously) through lush vegetation and through an outer wall.   
I needed to Goggle “moors”: The Moors were Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, and Malta during the Middle Ages. The Moors were initially of Berber and Arab descent. 

   
    
 

The second is the park and Palace of Pena. It was built on an adjacent mountain opposite the moorish castle , by King Ferdinand II in the 1830s. Predictably there was originally a monastery on the mount. It belonged to the Hieronymite monks! What on earth this means I have no idea! If nuns can be “decalced” and perambulate bare footed, then heaven only knows what deprivation an Hieronymite monk must have faced? The tourist pamphlet states that “the palace and its surrounding gardens are the finest examples of nineteenth century Portuguese Romanticism”. It is quite something to behold. The one drawback was that touring the Royal Apartments involved 45 minutes of crushing frotteurism which sent my anxiety levels through the roof. 

   
   
   
   
The third place of interest was the National Palace of Sintra! By this time I had had my fill of Byzantine architecture, ceramic tiles and exquisite glassware . There was another long queue buying tickets, (possible second dose of frotteurism) then the sky became leaden and after a terrifying thunderbolt, the rain pelted down to be followed after an apparent lull by a totally unexpected hailstorm! I rushed undercover and perchance it was a Portuguese bakery specialising in tarts! I made a Captain’s call and entered.

   
   

Here are a few more photos of Lisbon  street scenes 
   
   

Batalha

This was the second destination on our small group tour in a Mercedes van, there were 8 of us plus driver /guide.

Batalha is a small  town amidst the hills of the Leiria area. It lept into the history books after a gigantic battle when the smaller Portuguese army against all odds defeated the Castillian  hordes (Spaniards)  at  the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

What provoked the battle? Well the King of Portugal died without any heirs! However he had an illegitimate brother who in an Abbottesque moment declared himself King! But King Juan of Spain cried foul and declared war! Now the King of Spain was revered by the populous as somewhat of a suave, nimble and noble man who cut an awesome figure in the bull ring! Indeed his ballet like movements and pirouettes where he would, in a blur, turn 180 degrees on the head of a pin were legendary. 

But his elevation to almost god like status around the Taverna of Madrid was his signature movement in which as the bull’s horns were within millimetres of his groin, he execute a complete 360 degree turn which absolutely confused and disoriented the poor bull. It was folklore that when performed perfectly even the entire Spanish audience were confused! His nickname in spanish was “Turn-bull the Terrible”.

The spanish King before “Turn-bull the Terrible” was regarded as the great pretender (intentional lowercase). King António had as a prince been of great concern to his parents – he excelled at sports impaling several of his playmates at jousting before the age of 10, but was severely retarded in terms of language. In the 21st century we would describe this as autistic although in the 13th century court it was a given that he was simply plain dumb! His parents, despairing for the future of the monarchy, negotiated with the Friar of a Cistercian Order of Monks for a term of several years of monastic life. The Cistercian Monks take vows of absolute silence. The young prince should have been a “sandal-in” to succeed. 

Unfortunately within the year he was removed back to the Palace when he appeared to have no self control, pacing around the cloisters chanting in a monotonous repetitive way which made no sense to his elders much less his peers. 

But back to the impending battle! Not surprisingly the illegitimate Portuguese usurper was terrified and he fell to his knees praying to the Virgin Mary for deliverance. (The practice of falling on one’s knees and praying for salvation is known as “pyne-ing” in Portuguese). 
And the rest is history as they say!

As a thanksgiving for his miraculous victory the now legitimate Portuguese king decreed that on the site of this great battle a cathedral and monastery be built and named the monastery in her honour – Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória. 
Rather unfortunately (there were problems with the building and construction unions even in the 12th century) it took more than 200 years to complete and whats more is still unfinished!

It is described as the pearl of Portuguese architecture and another UNESCO world heritage listed site.
   
    
    

The unfinished part!

 

Fatima

I had forgotten about the apparent miracle of Fatima until today when I signed up for a tour involving four different and divergent attractions. 

3 adolescent children minding their herds saw a bright light on or about the 13th May 1917 and there appeared before them a vision of the Virgin Mary. Now one could safely assume if this were an isolated event that the 3 kids may have succumbed to some more plausible explanation – meteorological or whatever. But a little against this is the same apparition appeared several more times as foretold by the Virgin Mary on 13th day of the month on at least three more occasions, the last being in the presence of several thousand peasant Portuguese. Consequently the village of Fatima is up there with the Shroud of Turin, the Camino Trail and the holy tears of Lourdes. The bush or tree on which the vision perched was over the years literally chipped away by pilgrims so that it was completely axed so to speak splinter by splinter. A statue of the Virgin Mary sits we were told on its original stump. 

Two of the children sadly died whilst still young, the eldest girl survived, became a Nun and claimed to be visited on several occasions during her life by further apparitions of the Virgin Mary. She died in the 1990s. As a consequence of these events, various Popes shifted some assets and had constructed a cathedral and semicircular cloister and huge square that basically has the same look and proportion to the Vatican and its’ square! 
Next year 2017 is the centenary and the cathedral was hidden by scaffolding being renovated. The Pope will attend. Special prayers are being said in the hope that the Virgin will also make an appearance. 
As well as the typical baroque cathedral there is at the opposite end of the square an elegant and spectacular modern marble church and cloisters built after the visit of a latter day pontiff. 

Fatima has over a million pilgrims a year and the place seeths especially on the 13th of May. 

   
   

A well heeled colleague.

Do you know the meaning of “discalced”? I did not! Read on for an explanation.

A famous professional colleague who I shall call “Dr M ” to protect her identity, is a unique example of a mirror image. 

As I speak we are both overseas! What’s mirrored about that I hear you ask! Well I can guarantee that EVERY time I travel, so does Dr M, but when I am in the Southern Hemisphere she will be in the north or otherwise at diametrically opposite parts of the same hemisphere. 

When I am pushing a bike up an incline at 9%, she is pushing a leather Louis Vitton travel/shopping bag up a hill in London, Milan, Paris or New York. 

Whilst I am staying at a basic bed and breakfast drinking water sourced from the nearby moat of the medieval castle, Dr M is staying at the Manhattan Intercontinental drinking Moet.

Serious shopping for Dr M is spending all morning in the Prada boutique buying a pair of red shoes whereas serious shopping for me is rushing to the nearest Pharmacy to stock up on toothpaste and dental floss.

We both are lapsed in the religious sense. I was nominally Church of England (not Anglican in the 1950s) Dr M was Catholic. Although it is said as we all know “once a Catholic…..” So it was that booking into York House and learning that it was originally a convent, I immediately had visions of my mirrored colleague residing in these hallowed halls. But just as rapidly I realised from what I have described, it was pure fantasy. 

Her decadent habits would not get her into a Carmelite’s habit let alone past the first of the 47 steps to the nunnery door. 

Finally, and this is the crunch, York House was in 1759 the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites, the term “discalced” means without shoes or bare footed (with dispensation, sandals). 

Should Dr M see the error of her ways and become not only a Nun but also discalced, I, being a friend of Dorothy, would be more than happy to accept a donation of the red shoes. 
   
   

Lisbon – York House 

My accommodation in Lisbon is the York House. It describes itself as an historic hotel, once an old Carmelite convent dated from the 17th century. there is stone staircase leading up to to a garden terrace.
There is NO lift access so one has to bear ones suitcase, cross like up more than 43 steps! They will send a man down upon request. My reading of TripAdvisor suggests it was a somewhat mediocre, dark, musty, and ant infested establishment until a change of ownership about a year or so ago! 

only 27 steps to go!

  

the courtyard

  
 

how many men have knocked at this door a few centuries ago !?

I fantasise as I walk up the wooden staircase and the corridor to my room, what stories and events these dormitory like rooms and hallways have to tell!
  
  

The conference these past two days has been moderately enjoyable and stimulating. One of the more impressive presentations was given by the physician who is the Portuguese representative on the Cochrane Database Organisation! Lots of food for thought and insights that reinforced my own opinions and approaches to the interface between EBM (evidence based medicine) and the application in clinical practice  

  

 

a Portuguese Hawkers Corner


A few pictures of  Lisbon
  

  

  

Monsanto to Castel Branco

The last day in the saddle dawned clear and warmly sunny! I did not need the beanie and within 10km had stripped down a layer or two of clothing. Whilst psychologically being the last day, one could argue that the sense of enjoyment of this ride was attributed in no part to that, nevertheless it was delightful scenery different from the ride across the plateau on the second day. I rode gently down from Monsanto in a delicious descent circling the mountain entering a green lush valley not too dissimilar from any of the rides in the Adelaide Hills. The predominant vegetation in the the region which I have cycled consists of olive groves and citrus trees especially oranges. I assume they are Seville. I continued to be amazed at the rampant eucalypts. My guess is that as in many countries including Brazil, they were imported as plantation trees for a quick growing source of timber and have now become “feral”, self-seeding everywhere so much so that at times I was cycling along for all the world on a country road in Australia, lined avenue like by eucalypts. 

 

yes the predominant vegetation is eucalypts

  

Monsanto at the apex! on my way down

 

About 10km from Monsanto at the beginning of the day was the village of Idanha-a-Velha. Once a thriving Roman town, my visit was thwarted by a snarling, barking salivating dog which followed me inches from my ankles (I was walking at this stage). In this village I came as close as I could to the wondrous storks which nest at the top of bell towers and other such structures. They are quite majestic to observe soaring in the sky. 

   
   

But even the storks could not placate the rabid dog, so this ancient Roman village was briefly explored till eventually I felt discretion was the better part of valour.

I have also come across a few expatriate british people who have settled in the small Portuguese villages and live an apparent life of sloth in cheap retirement. Permanently scarred by the Monsanto Irish Encounter, I now tend to avoid politics and resort to topics such as “what ever happened to the old fashioned English breakfast”? or “the exorbitant cost of crumpets”! Even such a benign statement I realised would be but grist for the Irish mill. Yes well, I hear her declare the current cost of a crumpet is contrived! Not only any America but that archetypal takeaway chain “McDonalds” who will not rest until every English crumpet has been replaced by a McDonalds hash brown. 

The other truly enjoyable aspect of the last day’s ride was that it was essentially flat and the last several kilometres were along a narrow quiet country lane with granite stone walls at times almost suffocating under bramble bushes. It was all rather English.

 
 
Then the ultimate reward was my fortuitous choice of a boutique bed and breakfast establishment a few kilometres in the countryside out of Castel Branco. I felt justified in choosing a 100 euro a night bed ( I was offered an upgrade to a suite for an additional 10 euro) as I had been positively Scrooge like for the previous nights. If Dr Kiley can get serious in Manhattan then I can get serious in Castel Branco.

The Quinta dos Cavelhos is a stupendous refurbishment of what I suspect was an old winery or country estate mansion. Pictures will show more cleverly than I can describe! It is remote and not really within walking distance of the town. Nestled amongst acres and acres of Olive Groves these were advantages at least to me. Finally a young local couple who lived on the property in an adjacent cottage were charming as hosts, we communicated in broken English or using Google translate. We drove into town for a Portuguese seafood bread soup which we took back to the Quinta and had a hearty meal around a roaring fire and I even had two glasses of local white wine. Carlos drove me to the train station in the morning.  

 

the outside

  

the bed


    

  

the bathroom

  

Portuguese seafood bread soup with Sandra and Carlos

  
  

breakfast for one

  
  

 
So these 6 days in the Beira region of Spain have been very memorable and it is an ideal region to explore on a bike. The planning was perfect. Amazingly it was cool crisp and sunny on the 5 days in the saddle and the only day of overcast drizzle was the rest day anyway! So I sat on the Portuguese roof of the world contemplating, practicing the Recorder and drinking coffee. The overall direction I believe was the way to go in other words starting at Guarda and ending up in Castel Branco rather than the reverse. In general when cycling along the open roads and on top of the plateaus, the wind was mostly a crosswind with, if anything a tailwind component, even when climbing too! 

The rented bike was excellent, the company based in the UK delivered it to my hotel in Guarda and I was able to leave it at Castel Branco! It was clean and well serviced although my one criticism, communicated back to them was that the brakes were not easy to apply! Fiddling and even a good dose of WD40 made a mild modicum of difference. The gears performed faultlessly at every change.

A Breakfast Lesson

It is here at Monsanto that I have come across my first “tourists” -a couple from Ireland. I am well and truly off the beaten track! 

At breakfast I chatted to one of the Irish woman. We were only two in number at that time. She in fact was English but had lived in Ireland for 43 years. I guessed she was in mid 50s. Rather solemn, in fact severe, in demeanour. 

My gaydar sensed she was gay. I have an opinion that my gaydar is mostly very accurate, although it failed the test when I first met PJM at the shallow end of the Norwood pool all those years ago! I recall I commented that I admired how he had coordinated his speedo trunks and flippers which were in a sort of matching pastel. In retrospect it was obvious my antennae bombed big time. He grunted, moved to the far lane and backed himself into the corner. Adjusting his goggles he set off on a lap of some sort of butterfly…. On his back! To this day I am still unclear on what this unique stroke means! Unless it’s messsge was “take note, all you poofters, I swim bum down, NOT up! 

We (the Irish woman and I) made small talk and as the TV news was showing obvious images of the plight of the refuges in Europe I commented on this humanitarian catastrophe and how the world in general was sinking morally into the abyss! She became animated and explained that it was all “contrived “. I was stunned. Please explain I asked diplomatically . All the world’s destruction and wars are instigated and perpetuated by… America.

 Now I am not by any means a “yankophile” but I needed clarification. What about Russia and surely Syria is a country ravaged by civil war? No she was adamant. Was it oil I enquired? Good heavens no she exclaimed it is “because of the Rothschilds.” She realised from my expression that I had lost the plot. She took me by the hand figuratively and gently yet firmly stated that Syria was the ONLY country in the world where there was no branch of  Rothschilds Bank! The obvious implication being that the only way that the Americans can establish a branch of the Rothschilds Bank was to contrive this self destructive civil war. 

My head was in a spin! Red flags billowed and I knew instantly that I was sitting opposite a classic case of American Psychiatry Association DSM  “Madness”. 

I have a well developed sense of “accepting where a person is at” in life and I knew instantly that any further attempt at meaningful intelligent conversation was futile. So I withdrew to my coffee and Portuguese tart… 

But I had opened Pandora’s Box! Without provocation she launched into a monologue on GSM food, possibly because we happened to be staying at Monsanto ? She changed tack to refugees terrifying me with the claim that the African refugees were subsidised by….. you guessed it, The americans in the hope that they (the refugees) would invade and take over the whole of Europe! 

I sat catatonic and silent appearing calm but my brain was in turmoil. If the black hordes took over Europe what would happen to all those Rothschilds Bank branches or worse McDonald’s? Could it get any worse? 

Well indeed yes…… “what about vaccinations”  she admonished. I kid you not! Arsenic, mercury being injected into innocent infants and destroying their immune system. Without disclosure of my profession I asked matter of factly about the common knowledge that smallpox has been totally eradicated from the earth? She agreed and like a primary school teacher she shared with me the additional fact that it still existed in test tubes. Moreover warming to her subject she informed me that smallpox is related to cowpox. The milkmaids were protected. The implication being that this was the “natural” way. I had visions of infant school kids being lined up to milk a cow! 
I demolished a second Portuguese Tart and excused myself, escaping to my room and the comfort of my Recorder practice contented that I will sleep soundly tonight knowing that at least in Australia we still have Rothschilds Bank, McDonalds and iPhones. 

A few pictutes to bring us all back to  reality. Mostly of the Monsanto castle.