The last few days have seen us cycling down the coast, in a more leisurely fashion towards Faro. Originally we had intended to catch trains back up to the north of Spain and sail home from Santander, but the train situations didn't allow for easy transportation of bikes and so we opted to fly home with them from Faro.
So we cycled and camped our way south, mostly with good weather except for a dense sea fog in one town. The southern tip of Portugal is a National Park and the last days riding was spectacularly beautiful, and warm. But we eventually ran out of road and ended up in a version of Lands End, with sun and no charges for being there.
The lighthouse at the end of the road in the most South Westerly part of Portugal.
Camping in the town near by then making our way to Faro to pack bikes into bags for a flight back to Bristol. Five weeks on the road, four of them cycling, over 2200 kms and three very different countries. A great trip.
Made it to Lisbon after negotiating the industrial outskirts, dodging HGVs and all manner of rural traffic on the way in. On our way to the old part of town we passed an enormous cruise ship tied up on a quay and not surprisingly the town was full of passengers, wandering around doing the sightseeing thing.
After having our picture taken in the main square, a quick beer and some lunch we headed out of the city on a ferry across the bay to the other side and what we hoped would be quieter roads leading to the Algarve.
Landed on the other side and chose a town on the south coast which looked from the map might be nice and had camping. Turned out to be a very busy route and town like Torquay in smaller and at the bottom of a very steep hill. So much for guessing from maps.
The weather has finally shifted from grey cold and wet to a more Mediterranean climate and this part of the trip feels a bit more like a holiday and less of an "endurance" event.
We cycled south on our second day on country roads that skirted most of the hills and whilst there were more than a few juggernauts, they weren't too busy. Cloudy but dry till lunch when the heavens started to open and we took refuge in a restaurant for lunch, definitely not picnic weather. There was a TV on, as there is in most establishments with a very religious festival being shown. It turns out to have been Fatima, a major Catholic Church vision that occurred in Portugal in 1917 and was later sanctified by the church.
We were headed to stay with Keith and old friend from Totnes and his wife Hedy just east of Coimbra. They have a place in a hamlet in the hills surrounded by pines and the ubiquitous eucalyptus trees which abound in Portugal. A couple of lovely days with them catching up on sleep and nourishment and exploring some bits of the country they were familiar with.
The coast looked appealing but as we headed south we kept on going instead of veering west and ended up in Tomar, a historic town made famous as the the home of the Nights Templar in the 12 & 13 th Centuries.
We spent the morning wandering the cloisters and vestibules of the old convent and marvelled at the mix of architecture and ecclesiastical designs.
And then headed south again, along what we thought would be quiet back roads running down the valley parallel with the Rio Tejo. Nice roads, few hills but as the afternoon wore on, busier and busier with more and more articulated lorries barraleling along. Felt quite intimadating as the afternoon got later and the road narrower. Eventually our designated town for the night was reached to find that the campsite symbol on the map did not elicit any campsites..... And instead we had to go out on tiny lane another 6km to a site that wasn't really open and no food or shops any where near. So supper was had by rooting around the various leftovers we had in our panniers. But the site had beautiful pine trees and we had a good night beneath clear skies.
Today we crossed in to Portugal. Ciudad Rodriguo is about 25km from the border and we set off in the cold grey of the morning on more of the old rolling roads that had become so familiar. Less of a headwind but still more incline than down. Crossing the actual boarder was rather unceremonious, no checks and no guards. We stopped for coffe in the first cafe we found in Portugal to warm up (9* C) and check where would go next. The main road is an Autovia, motorway so we needed to find the old national roads that preceded the AVs but which aren't very well signed.
The scenery changed very rapidly from the open plains to steep valleys and wooded slopes and the cycling with it. Curving downhill runs followed by slow steady climbs up the other side.
Portugal already feels very different from Spain. Softer, smaller maybe gentler. A couple of times on our first day when we were looking at maps trying to work out our route drivers stopped to ask us, in good English, if we needed help and where did we want to go. Really helpful and very friendly. On the challenging side, Portuguese isn't at all like Spanish, or any other language to listen to, so I feel a bit adrift in a country where I can't communicate on even a basic level very easily, though we have come across people who speak French if they don't have English. Will have to learn some basic words!
Portugal also seems to be cheaper than Spain for coffee, food etc, and economically is probably not as well off. Roads are more potted and the surfaces more cracked, more older cars on the road.
We had aimed for a small town with a campsite marked on the map, Coletico, just west of Guarda, but on arrival found there was no campsite, and as it was getting late in the day having shelters in bus stops a couple of times from heavy showers, opted for a room in a pension/hotel that we found online and was very reasonable. Also had a simple but tasty meal in the restaurant next door, which included three courses and a couple of carafes of wine for 17€ for both us.