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 maps.me 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!

  

Almeida 

Is another delightful quaint town with an almost intact fortress the walls of which from above look like a huge octagon all surrounded by an equally complex moat. 

  

There is inside the walls a secure village of narrow  cobbled streets marred by the the motor car which is ubiquitous indeed omnipotent. At least the streets are so narrow that our tank like Jeeps ( why they are called “off road” stumps me) would not sqeeze through the front gate or even gain entry by the back door. This observation goes a long way to explaining why Europeans outside the big cities choose a small Fiat or Renault. But as they advance upon you along these cobbled streets the noise is terrifying convincing you they are approaching at more than 100km/ hr

Again getting these vehicles permanently out of such ancient sites is surely vital. 

   

the grand gate to the unique medieval Fortress of Almeida

  

  

my carbohydrate meal. best described as a Portuguese pie floater! its a bread sandwich with meat , smoked sausage, ham with a fried egg on top swimmjng in gravy ! best eaten with a cold beer

  
   
Yesterday was Saturday and I stumbled across a group of local residents at war games. It was quite a spectacular performace with dummy cannon explosives. There was the obvious commander looking for all the world like Napoleon Bonaparte although so unpolished was the marching and general running to and fro, that all I could conjure up in my mind was Dad’s Army and Captain Mannwearing!

Could this be Little Buttercup ? she woukd either shoot you or suffocate you to death

Trancoso to Almeida

In total about 56km and 1000m climbing. Two rather strenuous and relentless hills, both of which I dismounted at times when the gradient was about 8 to 9%. A steel bike and a pannier added to the strain and load. The best part was after the first hill when I rode along the plateau for several kms with fantastic panorama. The last big climb was up to my final destination for the day : Almeida. Psychology I was not up to riding the more so as the final road into the village became busier. So I walked the last 2 km.

The basic accommodation to date is just that! But as I have declared before I am a man of simple tastes and needs so a clean bed, a soft pillow and a hot shower are all I ask and expect. All of them are invariably dark, the lights off and at times cold literally as well as a “lack of warmth” figuratively. Often there is a certain smell! That in Trancoso gave the distinct impression that the septic tank, partially blocked for months was on the verge of absolute blockage and as I was the only guest that night any movement on my part was destined to be “the strain that broke the cistern’s bend”. 

The hostel at Almeida, in darkness had a rather musty odour. I had booked before on line but there was no evidence of any awareness. Breakfast is always from 8 to 10am.

There are as well 2 universal characteristics of the bathrooms in these basic establishments. Firstly the toilet paper holder is without fail screwed on the wall behind you. Not even off to one side but a full 180 degrees behind your left shoulder, small consolation if left handed but doubly difficult if more commonly right hand dominant. So when paper called for, one either has to, whilst still seated, rotate torso 180 degrees which unless you have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is otherwise anatomically and orthopaedically impossible after about the age of 45.

The second relates to the shower hardware. European showers have the shower rose attached to a coiled steel hose allowing one to hold it in one hand and “free wheel” thus to direct the water to every nook and bodily crevice. There is the option of placing it in a wall holder and thus freeing up both hands. Sounds architecturally sound! Sadly I have yet to find a shower hose holder that “stays up” so to speak. Like a drunken adolescent in a brothel, the initially erect hose majestically wilts after a delay of several seconds, so directing the stream of hot water to a point on the wall behind you at about chest level. 

The roads were very quiet even though they appeared to be relatively important. I guess similar to those in the Adelaide Hills but without the traffic! 
 

I was also amazed by the apparently deserted motorways which I crossed over by bridge on several occasions. During the whole day I would say that I was passed by a half a dozen cars and overtaken only twice, by a farmer’s tractor and lastly by a donkey cart!

  

Question: how can a Portuguese dog detect a foreigner on a bike from 2km away? Barking dogs which occasionally run out the gate and disconcertingly snap at one’s pedalling feet are ubiquitous in the European coubtryside. Surely they can’t hear or see one coming from 1 or 2 km? The beast is less likely to become aggressive if one is walking!

Various pictures of the cycle route day 2

   
    
    
    
 

Trancoso 

The day was most enjoyable especially as the first 16km were down hill! However it was at this stage that I discovered that the brakes were in need of adjustment as one needed an inordinate amount of squeezing to apply the brakes and even then the bike took a while to slow down! Disconcerting! So I descended like a nun and fiddled at the bottom in the valley. Still not happy.. It’s at times such as this that one appreciates that fiddler without peer.. Peter James Martin. Where is the WD40 when one needs it?

Sadly I resort to a cut and paste about Trancoso which is absolutely delightful!

A warren of cobbled lanes squeezed within Dom Dinis’ mighty 13th-century walls makes peaceful, hilltop Trancoso a delightful retreat from the modern world. 

Although it’s predominantly a medieval creation, the town’s castle also features a rare, intact Moorish tower, while just outside the walls are what are believed to be Visigothic tombs.


Dinis underscored the importance of this border fortress by marrying the saintly Dona Isabel of Aragon here in 1282. But the town’s favourite son is Bandarra, a lowly 16th-century shoemaker and fortune-teller who put official noses out of joint by foretelling the end of the Portuguese monarchy.
Sure enough, shortly after Bandarra’s death, the young Dom Sebastião died, heirless, in the disastrous Battle of Alcácer-Quibir in 1558. Soon afterwards, Portugal fell under Spanish rule
.

Whereas in Lecce and Salamanca the principal building material was sandstone/limestone, here in this part of mountainous Portugal it is granite with a capital G.

   
    
    
    
   

I set out

Note the understated cycle gear – the subtle charcoal grey pants, the matched orange jacket for warmth and safety. 

 
Not for me canary  yellow leggings or lipstick pink booties which some of my apparently heterosexual cycle buddies insist on wearing. 
Here is my route for Day 1

 

And for a touch of colourful class here is the room at Trancoso. 

 

The Livraria Lello

This remarkable bookshop was introduced to me on a a Trip Advisor 5 star rated “free walking tour”of Porto. 

Now any accountant or reputable financial planner would immediately tell you there is no such thing as a free lunch let alone a free walking tour of any attraction or city. Legally I am sure one could thank the guide profusely, shake hands and walk away! Morally and ethically of course it is wrong unless of course the content was obviously substandard or worse the guide had an english accent so thick that it may as well have been given in Swahili or even, well Portuguese! Suffice it to say the woman well and truly deserved  the very positive feedback on TripAdvisor. 

So called “free guided tours” are a dime a dozen in all the major European destinations.Now that is a confused metaphor I agree but you get the gist! Hence the members of the tour pressed on average 10 euro in her rather substantial purse! 

Back to the bookshop…she prefaced the introduction by explaining that the author of “Harry Potter” lived in Porto as a young woman, marrying a Portuguese man, became the victim of severe relentless domestic violence, divorced him within two years, settled down to a single life and consuming frequent bottles of port and tarts wrote a series of books that made her fabulously wealthy and of course meant she never had to rely on a man again. She invested in her own Port winery with a boutique bakery on the side that produced the most mouth watering custard tarts. 

A more erudite financial adviser would have recommended equities over a winery but then again there are financial planners and there are financial planners. 

I was forced to confess that I have never read any of the Harry Potter offerings much less fondled their frontpieces. I was brought up on Little Golden Books – “The Color Kittens” (American spelling), “The Sailor Dog” moving sequentially through childhood via Enid Blyton, The Bobbsy Twins, Biggles and finally the Billabong series. Adolescent stirrings had me acting out that I was Nora riding my beautiful chestnut stallion across the paddocks with Jim in hot pursuit in breeches and riding boots and sweat stained grandpa shirt cracking his leather whip as we galloped towards the billabong…. 

Something does not quite add up in this pubescent fantasy. I don’t think I would have Jim in a sweaty shirt but the whip would have been VERY acceptable. 

So the bookshop is over 100 years old and according to our guide, was the inspiration for the setting of the school in the Harry Potter books. 

The wooden staircase is world famous as is the stained glass ceiling window! There is an entrance fee of 3 euro which is deducted from any book one may purchase

  
  

  
 
Finally modern Portuguese university students still traditionally wear a black cape, zorro like, that again was apparently the inspiration for the academic gown worn by Harry Potter and his school mates. 
  

Last meal in Porto

The Bargueiro Tapas cafe down by the dock! An Amazing find! Stumbled upon it!
  

Pork in red wine. The meat melted in the mouth!

 
Sardines – I baulked at eating the heads!

 

Stuffed mushrooms! Ham and cheese and baked!

 
Now I will be a devil, throw caution to the wind and have a coffee and a port!

 

But sorry there is no way that I can appreciate coffee which is as thick, bitter and as strong as Tony Abbott. I was lost for using the descriptive “black” when thinking of our former PM.