Bom Caminho – Sintra to Ericeira, Thursday 2 April – 27km, 436m climbing
Last hour attaching speedos on bikes, setting seat heights, organising essential pannier contents, and farewelling host Joao meant Jen had to wait until 10.30 before waving us off with cries of ‘Bom Caminho’. Santiago de Compostela here we come…slowly. [At least the late-ish start meant we could get our passports stamped at the tourist office which had only just opened anyway.] A massive downhill start was great for Elly, but that meant the first chest thumping climb was awaiting across the creek. Ah well – that’s cycling. Jordy and I slowed the pace a bit, but it wasn’t long before we had Elly complaining behind us…’Can’t you ride any faster?’ Amazing! It was a splendid day and we had glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean as we pedalled towards the coast, hitting the beach at a spectacular surfing spot with a tall headland and wild waves. Onwards to the blue-and-white town of Ericeira, with a cobbled centre and seafaring nature. It must be dazzlingly bright and hot under the summer sun; on a balmy spring day it was still sunglasses and shirtsleeves. A supermarket visit took us through an arcade past ‘Photo Australia’, the owner stopping us as she saw our Australia emblazoned cycling lycra. She had children in Australia, was selling her shop and planned to retire there. To help get rid of shop stock, she loaded us up with monogrammed shopping bags and photo-holder freebies. Just what we needed.
We had not pre-booked accommodation, but decided to try the council camping ground just north of town – they must have seen us coming from Sintra! ‘We only have 1 cabin…and there is a one-night premium…and an Easter premium…and a tax…so that will be 132E for 5 persons’. Still, it was better than sleeping on the beach or in the car, and after a glass of wine back in town…who cared?
Jordy Falls the First time – Ericeira to Obidos, Good Friday 3 April – 65km, 764m climbing
Left our camping cabin just after the planned 8.30am; both boys tired to the eyeballs after returning home at 3am or so from an evidently successful night out! In the first kilometres north we watched from cliff headland height, the ant-sized surfers trying their luck with the swells, then turned inland; one village after another with seemingly unkept tiny parcels of rock-fenced paddocks between. What crops existed, mainly spring onions, seemed in desperate need of a drink. It was though, a perfect day for cycling – absolutely calm, just warm, and clear. Testament to the fact was there were many other cyclists out and about, kitted up on road-bikes and often in groups [including one pro-team with a pace-car!]We stopped for tourist info and lunch supplies at Torres Vedras, had our ‘credencial’ stamped at the church [but decided against having our confessions heard – only because the queue was too long?], and climbed on through bluegum plantations and brickworks to a hilltop village with well-located church steps for a picnic. After a quick bite, Jordy promptly succumbed to tiredness and fell asleep, head resting on his arm. With the church cross above him, it was a scene reminiscent of the journey to Calvary – Jordy falls the first time.
Arrived to Obidos at 3pm, found our accommodation at the quaint and distinctive Hostel Argonauta and gave host Concha a kiss of gratitude on the cheek, for bearing with the exchange of emails over some months to establish dates of arrival and numbers of guests. Billy and Jen drove up soonafter , happy with their day’s sightseeing, and just in time to join the town’s ‘Stations of the Cross’ re-enactment procession. A gourmet meal of pesto chicken pasta prepared by myself was commented on favourably, and the evening was completed by a further candlelit funereal procession around the tiny streets of town, re-enacting the placement of Jesus in the tomb. Fantastic musical accompaniment by the town brass band of a booming dirge march. Unforgettable really.
Art and Peace – Obidos, Easter Saturday 4 April
We ordered Concha’s breakfast for 9.00am, and all awoke at 9.05, stunned we had slept for almost 10 hours! Fresh bread [haven’t come across bad Portugese bread yet], with quince jelly and local honey, followed by a delicious salty and oregano and thyme-herbed fried egg courtesy of the hens next-door. Jammed our dirty clothes into Concha’s washing-machine and wandered the streets and impressive, intact castle walls of Obidos. The highlight was seeing a resplendent, dead-ringer Gandalf guarding the main portal, and for just a few coins you get a photo and a blessing! Another load of washing on, then we all drove to the nearby town of Caldas de Reinha to wander the fruit and veg market, then the botanical gardens, within which was Portugal’s first dedicated art gallery, opened in 1933 to house the works of famous local artist Jose Malhoa. Nicknamed the ‘painter of Portuguese people’, he brought the Naturalism style of painting to the country in the late-1800s. All picked our favourite works, bought the corresponding postcards, and were acclaimed by the staff as possibly the first Australians to visit the less well-known town.
In contrast, the next place we visited is well-touristed! The Gardens of Art and Peace at a very rich man’s winery, were commenced a decade ago as a result of the Taliban destroying the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan in 2001. So incensed at the wanton destruction, he decided to recreate the statues, throwing in a hundred or so terracotta warriors, and large contemporary art installations and sculptures. All this amongst cork trees, ponds, manicured gardens and vineyards. It is something between tacky theme park and an art lover’s gift to the masses. I’d like to go with the latter end of the scale, and the multitude of smiling and serene, Saturday Portugese visitors seemed to back me up.
“Rest Days are Terrible” – Obidos, Easter Sunday 5 April
So says Jordy when discussing the joys of cycle touring with Elly over breakfast. We interpreted it to mean he always wants to be on the bike, which he hasn’t always found joyful? But he quickly explained it meant that after a rest day, it was hard to get motivated to get back on!
This rest day was spent driving to the fishing port of Peniche, and the long sandy beaches of Baleal. Picnic lunch under the lighthouse at Cabo [Cape] Carvoeiro with rock formations and views rivalling our local Cape Bridgewater, lots of walking, kicking the soccer ball on the beach, and a [very] quick swim in the cold Atlantic waters, just to say ‘been there, done that’. Timed our return to Obidos to catch the end-of-day trade at the monthly flea market. Wow there’s some junk about, all around the world. But there were bargains to be had too? Jordy scored a Portugese flag for 9E, and Jen a traditional and distinctive [ugly?] green cabbage-leaf plate for 1E which evidently is destined to be on display at ‘Kyndalyn’ for evermore. We are all looking forward to that!