Days 8-11: rolling along the Caminho, Coimbra

Vale Lynn Stewart – Obidos to Leiria, Monday 6 April – 69km, 743m climbing

We all have a teacher from our student past we recall, either with affection or dread. Today I fondly remembered my former secondary school English teacher Lynn Stewart, accompanied by tears of sadness. Her husband Rob emailed to say she had died after a short and sudden illness, and wondered if he could use some of my thoughts in a eulogy service I cannot attend. That’s the twist with travel – money and time give the opportunity to step out of an everyday life, but the clock doesn’t stop and meaningful events occur in absentia. Vale, Mrs Stewart.

Our last Concha breakfast had a magnificent fruit salad to accompany the ever-famous fried egg, and fuelled us up for our third day of cycling. We followed the caminho arrows along the quiet roads to Caldas de Reinha no problems. Hoping for the same on the exit I dropped in to the Tourist Office for a map and got a long conversation instead. “Yes, I like Australia. I have seen it on the television. You have sun and space and beaches. I do not like the city.” I agreed that it is hard to escape the built environment in Europe, even though Portugal has plenty of sun and outstanding beaches.

Our planned stops for the day were the impressive monastery towns of Alcobaca and Batahla. The forward scouts [Billy and Jen] soon phoned in to say to ‘yes’ to the first and not the second. We obliged. Alcobaca is a World Heritage Site with a sprawling and imposing 12th century monastic complex of church, cloisters, dormitories, kitchen and dining hall. Quite austere constructions inside, evidently the monks led a more colourful and debauched lifestyle by the early 1800s, and they were sent packing! The kitchen and chimneys defy description, or even a decent photo, but they were the highlights. Again the scouts had done their job and found hostel accommodation in the heart of Leiria, and obtained advice on where to eat. Jordy already had his advice for an entrée – a place dedicated to the chocolate spread Nutella, where you could order a yiros of shaved nutella ice-cream in a pancake amongst many other yummy specialties. A business franchise opportunity awaits him at home, if he doesn’t eat all his produce first. ‘Proper dinner’ was also delicious in a very basic looking, 3 generations old family restaurant with specialty dishes of tasty rabbit, mackerel, chicken, and chips [with mayonnaise to Jen’s delight].

Miradouro – Leiria to Coimbra, Tuesday 7 April -76km, 1054m climbing

Great day for cycling with more records broken for Elly – another ‘longest day’ with ‘most climbing’ thrown in. Not that the route was spectacular at times; times when we hugged the shoulder of the major arterial IC2, and trusted the Portugese truckies to give us a wide berth. Which they did! Jordy recalled talking to an Aussie campervanner in Turkey last trip who commented on Portugese drivers being the worst in the world. None of us concur. With few exceptions they are considerate, patient and giving on the road. Maybe it’s because they have such short distances to travel? Even on the bikes it seems one town/ village follows another with an industrial/commercial zone in between and a few small orchards or bluegum plantings intermingled.

When not on the highway, Jordy worked his GPS Strava navigation a treat, so we travelled some backroads to Pombal, Conímbriga and Coimbra. The first town was a lunchstop [read bakery]; the second had the ‘best Roman ruins’ in Iberia [not completely ruined], and the third is a stunning university city [got the speccy ‘miradouro’ [lookout/view] from one of the many hills on the way in] where we were greeted by the dynamic support duo with smiles, fantastic accommodation at Serenata Hostel, and then a cooked dinner of pesto ravioli and a bottle of vinho tinto! Tour de France pro-teams could not do it better.

The Farewell Ballad of the Graduating Law Students of 1988/89 – Coimbra, Wednesday 8 April

A sleep in, and an adequate cornflake and bread-roll continental breakfast. Dropped laundry to front desk; great value 6E for wash and dry. First tourist highlight was outside the front door at the old cathedral; got the obligatory pilgrim stamps and bonus free entry! Naturally, Jen took photos at the altar of St Claire. Amongst the university campus which dominates the high ground of the city, several museums and galleries were on offer – I opted for the Science Museum, pushing buttons and watching chemical reaction demonstrations with a group of enthusiastic local secondary students. The Botanical Museum had displays of how corks are cut out of the bark of cork trees, and what products the pine turpentine resin is used for that we had seen being tapped in the forest. Two questions answered. Met Jen and Elly for late lunch before getting ready for fado concert. Fado is a musical style particular to Portugal, and in Coimbra is traditionally only performed by male singers and guitarists who are students or ex-students of the university. The three musicians certainly kept us awake; the girls liking the ‘eye-candy’ as well. [Uugh, middle-aged women on holidays.] Elly bought a CD which unfortunately didn’t contain the beautiful hit song of the night – ‘The Farewell Ballad of the Graduating Law Students of Coimbra 1988/89.’ Made me think of when the Melbourne University Agriculture and Forestry Students of 1981 graduated; all we came up with was a t-shirt with a one-fingered salute on the front, and the caption ‘dishonour before death’ !

Following the Caminho – Coimbra to Sao Joao de Madeira, Thursday 9 April, 99km, 1292m climbing

A blog written by two Brisbane cyclists a couple of years ago, hinted the caminho north of Coimbra was well-marked and gentle cycling. It certainly is superbly signposted and indicated by yellow arrows painted on poles and kerbs, but past the 50km mark at Agueda the roller-coaster begins. But what a delight to ride! For some sections through bluegum plantations it was mountain-biking material on forest trails; in towns it was smooth-running bitumen along side streets and there were even a couple of walking paths thrown in alongside creeks and railway lines. Happy and hungry we rolled into the well-appointed town of Agueda. Stamps at the tourist info and a recommendation for a cheap, authentic Portugese lunch. Usually the special is soup of the day, then a choice of a couple of mains, with a drink for 5-7E. With no English menu or speaker in sight, it was a point-and-smile affair – Jordy almost gagging at my rice and poultry [of some type] dish that included a juicy foot.

Onwards to Sao Joao became harder work for Elly as she again conquered distance and climbing ‘records’, but without swearing… aloud at least. Tired and a little bit nauseous, from the effort and a touch of dehydration[?], she plonked into bed for an early night at the quaint Hostel Solar while we scavenged for food.

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Filed under 2015, Gallery, Lisbon to Lyon

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