Once we finally gout ourselves out of the busy, sprawling Lisbon area, which took us a couple of days, the cycling in Portugal has been fantastic. Experience has actually taught us a lesson or two about the importance of starting slowly after a long break so this first week we've been sleeping in late and doing short rides and aside from an occasional achy muscle, sore rear end, pounding heart, burning lungs and general feeling of being terribly out of shape, our bodies are adjusting nicely to being back on our bikes.
For the most part, bike touring here has been comfortable and convenient in a sense that towns and resupply opportunities are frequent meaning we only have to carry one meals supply of food and water rather than 4 days worth as was often the case in South America. I am happy because there is an abundance of fresh veggies rather than only onions, carrots and potatoes and Mike's Portuguese roots are really shining through in his near daily intake of linguica. His 100% Portagee grandparents and father should be proud! But of course there are a few things that we've had to adjust to like the unavailability of wifi or even internet cafes for that matter. Never would I have imagined that it would be more difficult to find wireless in Europe than it was in South America but it's turning out to be that way. Whenever we need to go online, we spend hours wandering around towns with our computer open searching for a signal on an unsecured network that we can leach onto for a few minutes before the signal dies and we get booted off. Figuring out how to maneuver though round-abouts on bicycles without getting creamed by vehicles speeding around these little circles at intersections has been fun. I've actually come to like them and we now jump on in without hesitation like it's nothing at all. They're perfect for bikes as we can't get in trouble for rolling through stop signs and I've decided we desperately need these back home! The Portuguese language which sounds like some combination of Spanish and French has also been a bit confusing. There are tildes over letters other than “Ns,” little squiggly tails on some of the “Cs” but fortunately the written language is similar to Spanish with only a letter or two different in each word so we've been able to more-or-less figure out what most things say. However, when we are spoken to, you might as well just speak gibberish because it doesn't sound a bit like Spanish and we've once again been reduced to understanding little more than yes, no, water, please and thank you. Needless to say, there has been a lot of charade playing going on this week.
Mike with his linguica.
Although riding on roads, regardless of whether there's a wide shoulder or not, the worry and thought of vehicles never leaves our minds. One pleasant surprise here, however, is that there are very few large vehicles. An occasional pick-up truck or motor home can be found but for the most part they are little sedans or smart cars sharing the roads with us whose drivers slow down, generally give us plenty of space and, unlike every driver in South America, doesn't drive like a maniacal 16-year old boy high on testosterone.
This last week was spent riding around the southwestern portion of Portugal through small, uniform villages of white stucco houses with orange tile roofs, along narrow cobblestone streets that have somewhat of a “back alley” feel as they weave between buildings and all the while trying to grasp the oldness of this place where grand castles still stand on hilltops overlooking the towns. Between the villages is beautiful countryside of endless farmland, cork tree orchards and narrow, winding country roads meandering over rolling hills with the sweet, dusty smell of conifer forests on a warm day.
One of many villages of white stucco houses with orange roofs.
Mike on a cobblestone street.
An orchard of Cork Trees.
We have just reached the Algarve, the southern coastal region of Portugal and are looking forward to this next week of riding here with its abundant touristy surf towns, clear blue water and spectacular jagged cliff coastlines. After only a week we are already feeling stronger and for the first time in a very long time (since we left the U.S.), it feels like we're actually cycling again rather than just coasting along terribly bumpy roads and holding onto our bikes for dear life as it was for the majority of our time in South America. We are excited to once again be on paved roads, able to cover huge distances and feel physically, rather than mentally, tired at the end of the day. Our spirits and enthusiasm for touring is once again soaring and I have a feeling that riding through Europe is going to be great.