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. 



 Another cut and paste. This is about 12km further on from Sabugal on the road to Monsanto.

“Surmounted by a castle built on a formidable crag at an altitude of 760 metres, Sortelha still retains its mediaeval appearance intact through the architecture of its rural granite houses.

Sortelha had therefore part of an important line of defence formed from a series of castles built on the borders of the territory, most of which were either erected or reconstructed on the earlier hill forts of ancient Iberian civilisations. The village´s name derives from the nature of its terrain, being surrounded by rocky escarpments in the shape of a ring (sortija, in Castilian), its walls also having been built in a circular fashion.

The great charm of this village is its evocation of a mediaeval atmosphere, with all the houses having been built of granite and generally consisting of just one storey. Their foundations have been built into the rock and follow the topography of the terrain. “

I was the only person there at 10am and I wandered into the medieval square to be greeted by two large dogs and a mangy cat. All were thankfully friendly and having sniffed my crotch then the pannier, they sat in the slowly warming sun and ignored me!

A word of warning: if and when you make this trip yourself  (and you should)  all medieval villages that boast a castle and a wall, in Portugal will of necessity, be perched on a granite mountain somewhere between 600 and 800m elevation with an access road that inclines on average at 11% and is cobbled for the last half a kilometre. Your just dessert when you have reached the top (surely walking) is a hot milk coffee and if the elevation gain is at or below 600m, one Portuguese Tart, if the the gain exceeds 600m, TWO Portuguese Tarts! 



yes it is snow!



Sabugal to Monsanto.

What a day! I think this is the best so far – a long day of almost 70km and ascending over the day 1200m until my final destination, Monsanto at 820m. Now when I state the “best” I mean that it was the “best ” in terms of hard work, aching thighs, fluctuating breathless and tortuous climbs! Why is it that the last 10km of ALL rides is agonisingly slow taking forever and the final destination is never around the next corner unless it involves a climb of 450m at an average incline of 9%? 

There is no doubt that pushing my loaded bike up such inclines has been a significant workout! The road to Monsanto was horrendous sometimes my Garmin claiming the incline was 14%… I was pushing and walking!

The village is absolutely incredible and I have fortuitously factored in a rest day at Monsanto tomorrow before the last leg. I am staying at the Taverna Lusitana, which has, obviously, accommodation as well! I have an individual “unit” built out of granite and it is quite special! I am sitting on the outside porch of the Taverna and feel like I am on the roof of the world. It faintly reminds me of the trek in Nepal all those years ago. The panorama is breathtaking, a crisp wind and clear blue sky. The sunset should be spectacular.

After setting out from Sabugal there was another historical village – Sortelha for which I have a separate blog post.


that “pimple” on the hill is my destination for the night!


eucalytpus trees are everywhere . almost a pest i suspect

There follows several pictures of the oldest “intact” Portuguese medieval village of Monsanto :

Including amazing panoramas ftom the hotel terrace


the terrace balcony of the hotel


the inevitable castle at the very top of the hill


my “suite” is the granite building straight ahead with the brown door




Almeida to Sabugal

So far the weather has been absolutely faultless. Today is no exception. I am maintaining my goal of a Portuguese Tart in every village. (Please, please PJM don’t!). 

I try to get on the road by 8:30am given that I am dependent upon the earliest breakfast at 8am. I can but only feel sad and sorry for the young woman at what can be described as hostel accommodation at Almeida. It’s not even worth 2 stars but I gave her 4 stars for effort. It was very Faulty Towers and she was a female version of Manuel! At 8:05 I came down to a dark and deserted dinning room. I politely coughed and made a few noises whereupon she appeared looking as though I had forced her out of bed. She quickly switched on an ancient analogue TV showing some European “fotbol”! Then she produced several slices of ham and cheese! She unwrapped a few individual cakes in cellophane and a basket of limp croissants then microwaved a milk coffee for me! What did impress was the offer to juice two oranges ! I accepted! Finally my attempts to pay the 30 euro were thwarted when after being declined several times, she explained that the hotel spanish bank terminal did not accept Mastercard! 

As I departed rugged up ready to hit the road, I sensed her starring at my back and wondering what strange habits these tourists from far flung lands have! Stupid and uncivilised! Eating an evening meal at 7 then expecting breakfast at 7 am! In Portugal we do it differently and much more civilised – dinner never before 9 pm and breakfast therefore at the sensible hour of 9 am at the very least.

I straddled the Portuguese and Spanish border riding along the plateau in a.southerly direction for quite a few kilometres. 


an apparently abandoned mansion . a challenge to do it up.


now that is a quiet country road on a Sunday in Portugal

 The village of Vilar Formosa is described as Portugal’s gateway to Europe! Look East into Portugal and the Atlantic, turn to the West and one is facing the Spanish hordes, at least that is how the Portuguese perceive things! The train station at Vilar Formosa is quite special. I gather that in villages such as these despite being in Portugal, most of the inhabitants are Spanish!

the train station


So I pedal along with Spain on my left and Portugal on my right. In case you are wondering, the village dogs are much more aggressive on my left. 


who needs a roller door for this garage ?


ancient Romzn bridge at least the arches !



Much less sudden severe up and down much more undulating. 63km and I pedalled all the way arriving at Sabugal around 13:30 hours. It dawned on me that it is Sunday which may explain the peaceful road and of course the village is desolate except for smoke filled bars where it appears that the Portuguese drink more shots of coffee than alcohol! Its only 4 o’clock so perhaps they move up to grog after 6? There is on the bar TV some sort of Portuguese Sunday festival and I am mesmerised by an aging rocker in a mustard coloured jacket, a coiffure of ginger coloured hair and aviator sunglasses! I wonder if he is Portugal’s answer to Elton John? There are two female go-go dances in powder blue hot pants and boots which completes the theatrical experience. They seem to be dancing on a stage set up in front of a church! I obviously need to spend more time in bars if this is what I am missing out on: go-go dancers and tobacco smoke.

Sabugal has yet another impressive castle but no walls! At least on this cycle trip its castles rather than cathedrals! 

I did not appreciate until today how much time is involved in setting up a routine to charge my “security blankets” – (iPhone,Garmin, lights) the cables add to the weight .

 I am very impressed with the app on the iPhone. It has replaced my Garmin for navigation at least! I am absolutely confident that I can navigate the group on our upcoming Dutch cycle holiday, although Pamela will demand a several hour seminar on the process!
I am faced with a dilemma – My riding Nics failed the sniff test this morning! One can’t reverse cycle nics! A chamois MUST face inwards! I only packed one pair! Bother! Anyway 2 more days. Let’s see if I attract or repel the feral dogs tomorrow!