Camino Português – Day 17 – Porto to Gião

The Old Way through the Modern City

03 September 2016 
29,572 steps/25.83km

Shelley and I rounded off yesterday with a superb meal of varied tapas. We found a wonderful little restaurant tucked away in a small vaulted cellar close to our little pensión beside the Torre dos Clérigos church title photo).
Trásca, in Rua da Trás, has a great atmosphere, great food and a great guy with a kind attItude serves you there.  No doubt you will meet Paulo and enjoy his quiet, unassuming, multi-lingual service. A really nice guy with a colourful life-story. (Sorry – no website to link to, but they are on Facebook).

Today was a very hot day under a cloudless sky, and a journey of 25km, spent 100% of the time on roads and sidewalks. Everyone had told us to take the modern variation of the coastal route out of Porto. I can see why, but we welcome tradition. We followed the route which I had carefully researched and which took us along the old pilgrim path. 

It is true that it stays on the streets and roads of Porto, but it is easy to follow and passes some beautiful old churches and chapels. 

 Although modernised over the centuries, the straightness gives a clue to their antiquity as an old Roman arterial road connecting Porto to the north. I had been told it was difficult to follow the route, but in fact the yellow arrows were prolific – after the first kilometre.

It took us four hours to reach fields. However these were not wide, open pastures of wheat or grazing. They were very old walled boundaries containing almost 100% fields of maize. Occasionally we could smell, but not see, cattle. The reason we later realised was that the cattle are all kept indoors and fed on the corn. I guess it is efficient for dairy and beef, but it seems sad that they do not graze in the fields.

Outside of Porto, the Way follows cobbled roads. Many cobbled roads. All the roads after Maia, until we reached the N306, were cobbled. The extent of the cobbles is incredible when one considers that each of the millions and millions of stones has been laid by hand. It has been a colossal undertaking of probably millions of man-hours. Now they must be a nightmare on rubber tyres and for the authorities to maintain. Nevertheless, though uneven, there were few holes.

Care is needed on these roads to dodge the often fast vehicles. Sidewalks, where they exist at all, are narrow and in short sections. 

The ‘arrowed’ route took in some interesting small diversions when compared to my carefully researched route of the original Camino Português. These were all outside of Porto. Our lodgings at the excellent Casa Mindela was on my mapped route, but fresh arrows 300m before the farm pointed pilgrims away into another village. The reason it seems is that the local council, which has the responsibility for the Camino signs, will accept petitions by small hospitality businesses to divert walkers and cyclists to said businesses. The old arrows are usually encountered once again a little afterwards, and then meet up with the diverted route. “All paths lead to Santiago” might be the truth in one phrase, but clearly money can influence even an old traditional route.

I cannot speak too highly of Casa Mindela and our host, Helena. She welcomes pilgrims to her delightful home/farm. Our clothes were washed for us. She does not have a licence to cook evening meals for guests, but will order from a local restaurant and bring it to the farmhouse. A truly great host.


Tomorrow, Barcelos – and hopefully – some footpaths through fields and forests.

Also, we saw just one other pilgrim in the distance, but at last, I am no longer alone on this path as Shelley is with me. Her company adds a spring to my step…

Camino Português – Day 17 minus 1 – Porto

Champing at the bit…

This is the day prior to the start of the final leg of our Camino. A day which began in the misty sunshine to the raucous cries of the seagulls.

Porto is a lovely town/city. I walked into it in mid-June. Now I am walking round it. Lots of things to see. The banks which guide the River Douro to the sea are simply exquisite. The Port wine producers’ warehouses are everywhere to be seen on the South bank. Lots of little cafés, bars and restaurants. Lots of tourists too, but I find that even my poor standard of Portuguese gains appreciation – and  that little bit better service than I see others getting. So few Europeans seem to try to learn even a modicum of this language, and many Spanish tourists simply speak in their own language and expect (almost demand) to be understood. Anyway – I make the effort and I see tangible results.

I will say no more today, but leave you with some of my photos. The cubic building is where I am now – the Casa da Musica.

The monument commemorates the Portuguese victory in the Napoleonic Wars. Look carefully at the top ornament…

 

Camino Português – Day 16 -Santa Maria de Feira to Porto Cathedral

 

In the footsteps of the Romans and Acts of Random Kindness

25 June 2016

As I said yesterday, the Pedra Bela in Santa Maria de Feira was a great place to eat, drink and sleep. It was also fortuitous that it marked the start of a long, straight Roman road ‘Rua da Estrada Romana’. For over 10km it aligned itself through many villages. Sometimes a modern road, sometimes a paved ancient track but always the same direction.

P1010973In the country track stages, the stones which were laid, centuries ago, are massive. They have already stood the test of time and will continue to do so – unless, as will probably happen, the fields are developed for houses and the tracks subsumed.

P1010985The route itself was long and hot. Those small bars where I could get a café-com-leite or a Coke were welcome sights.  One had an especially interesting mural.

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I experienced – twice – but for the first time since Lisbon – acts of simple, human kindness. As I walked up the hill through one village, a lady came to me to ask if I would like some cold water. I was running low. I was thirsty as the village bar was closed. She took me to her house, picked a lemon from the tree and served me chilled fresh lemon water as well as filling my water bottle. Her name is Bertha.  She is 70 and her mother, Luisa is 90.  They asked only that I say their names in the Cathedral in Santiago – which I shall surely do.

P1010983The same thing happened again after I had climbed over the Alto Serra. This lady was Laura.

They were simple, unexpected, everyday miracles. Random acts of kindness with nothing to gain. In a world filled with recriminations and self-centred gain, they restored my faith in people.

I am used by now to having to avoid inanimate cars and over-animate dogs. This morning I had to avoid a mix of the two as for the first time I encountered donkey carts. These are something a walker has to really move to avoid in the narrow streets.

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The route worked its way through the southern satellite suburbs of Porto, through more non-asphalt tracks than I have been used to in the countryside. I realise that I have been following what has been historically the ancient route from Lisbon to Porto. Often this has been along the modern updates but sometimes along its earliest predecessors as I first saw on Day 2.

P1010990The route took me (often without the yellow arrows) to the the Dom Luís bridge. The Douro below was alive with tourist cruises, and the riverside cafés full of people enjoying 30°C sunshine.

It was a spectacular ending to this phase as I made my way to the Cathedral.  I got my Credençial stamped, but sadly could not buy a candle to light for MJ. That will happen when I reach Santiago.

My route to Porto has taken me through the ancient capital of Lusitania/Portugal.  It has taken me through places steeped in antiquity with legends of Queen Saint Isabella, St James, St John.

I have sampled wines from Tejo, Alentejo, Beirão and Douro.

I have spent hours walking alone in the woods with only butterflies and birdsong for company. I have also walked for hours in the heat dodging cars and trucks.

When I return to Porto on 01 September, it will be with Shelley. We shall walk through Northern Portugal together to Santiago. I now know that the kilometres will seem so short when we restart together. If you can find a like-minded companion – make sure you take them with you.

Till then – this is the last of the daily blogs. I hope you have enjoyed them.P1010991

Camino Português – Day 15 -Oliveira de Azéirmas to Santa Maria de Feira

 

Post – Brexit and best stay yet…

24 June 2016

I set off with a truly great breakfast from Hotel Dighton. Weather was cool under the mist. It did not spoil the views however, as the day was spent walking through the outermost suburbs of Porto. Some lovely chapels en route but this is city walking.

P1010964In São João de Madeira, a lady heard me speaking on the phone to Shelley – in English. She politely waited for me to finish speaking – then started to speak to me. Calmly at first then more loudly. If my understanding of her Portuguese is correct (sadly I had to ask her to repeat what she had just said more slowly which I suspect cooled some of her enthusiasm) then I/We had apparently taken the money from the pockets of Portugal by leaving the EU…

I could not get everything she said. When she decided that I was too stupid or at least had had enough, she moved on. A guy then came over and said ‘Well Done’ in English and he hoped Portugal would do the same soon. The U.K. may be divided, but Portugal seems to be the same. I wonder if all of Europe is the same?

P1010969Through the village streets to rendezvous with my old friend – the N1. It has truck stops along it and at least one excellent Churrasqueira just south of Santa Maria de Feira.

Churrasquaria

The mist cleared as I walked to my lodgings the Pedra Feira de Santa Maria.

P1010961It has a restaurant on the N1, which is truly EXCELLENT. It specialises in seafood as it is a marisqueira. The difference between a good restaurant and a great one is the ambience. Here it is without comparison in all the miles since Lisbon. I sat at the bar and talked with a great young man called Rudolfo. He is a shoe craftsman as making shoes is the local business. I had passed many closed factories but he kept on making shoes.  A great young man.  This was followed in the bar by a great bartender – Marco. All in all a day of great experiences on the Camino.

Hotel at Santa FeiraTomorrow is my last day on this section as I reach Porto tomorrow afternoon, then fly home.

Camino Português – Day 14 -Albergaria-a-Velha to Oliveira de Azéirmas

 

At last – a fellow pilgrim

(but not a fellow…)

23 June 2016

I left the route yesterday and that made it difficult this morning.   The morning was one of low cloud/high mist. I felt like I was playing ‘chicken’ crossing the N1. I chose pedestrian crossings near to the roundabouts but still got horns blaring. Road speeds here are high, and probably the least tolerant drivers yet in Portugal.

I left the N1 as soon as I could. A track lead through the forest along the side of a little used local rail line. I met a woman clearing the path to her house and asked her if she knew where I could join the Camino. She did not know about the Camino, but had seen some yellow arrows when I explained what I was looking for. It took a little track navigation, but I found them after a couple of kilometres.

I walked along the country roads, dodging the – IMHO – high speed traffic. People waved some interesting hand gestures to me, so out of politeness – I naturally waved the same gestures back….

I met the owner of the Albergue at Albergaria-a-Nova. I asked him about breakfast and he invited me into his house.  He and his wife and sons made me feel very welcome. As I was leaving, another Pilgrim!

Cheryl Lee already knew of me from reading a visitor note at a small bar in Alfoléas. We had been leap-frogging each other – and now we had finally met up. We decided to walk together for the next 14km.

It is astounding the difference that walking in company can make. Cheryl is a very sweet young lady and Chartered Accountant from London. Very clever and witty. The kilometres just flew by. Walking along the roads with her brought out the ‘dad’ side of me as I tend to be protective towards ladies and always take the outer position or front position when walking by the roadside or on roads. (Note – This was how I was taught a man should walk when walking beside ladies. It confused Cheryl no end when we crossed roads, but that is how I am wired…)

Walking on the roadside where necessary attracted more waving especially from one young male driver who was clearly unhappy when I returned his wave. Normally the drivers in Portugal have been fast but respectful. This change seen since Mealhada is not what I have come to expect from the very hospitable people that I have met throughout Portugal.

P1010952Cheryl and I parted company at Oliveira de Azeméis. Her schedule calls for her to get to Porto tomorrow evening so she had to press on.   We shall probably not meet again, hence I wish her a Bom Caminho.

One thing that Cheryl had also noticed were the dogs. As she said – if you can be scared by dogs, then this is Camino can be more intimidating than the Camino Francès.  My advice – walk with sticks – not to hit the dogs – but they do tend to make dogs want to back off.

I am treating myself to the 4 star and excellent Hotel Dighton. Well worth that bit extra to give yourself a treat.

P1010953If you are reading this Cheryl – let me know how you progress.

Now – time to watch the results of the Brexit referendum.

Camino Português – Day 13 -Mourisca Vouga to Albergaria-a-Velha

 

Hard to get lost

21 June 2016

First day of mist in the morning. It did not lift until 11:30, and made for a very comfortable day of walking. A wonderful 18°C rising to 21°C.

The Vouga – as I found out today – is the main river in the area. I walked through Mourisca da Vouga – a very long village  – and then into the valley and Eucalyptus woods.

P1010946I realised that the N1 is following the ancient route northwards. I am on that ancient route – most of the time at least. The Caminos bring you in touch with these old routes. True – they are changed from time to time, but their overall basis was set way back in the annals of history. For centuries, people have followed these trails – connecting the same villages, shrines, fountains…

We walk in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims; of Roman Legionaries – of the earliest people in these parts.  I find it humbling.

The rivers here are not fast flowing. Lakes form and fishermen were there fishing from an old bridge on what must have been that original road.

P1010944I was never far from the main road, but in the forests of Eucalyptus,  there were the songbirds to hear once more. It makes a welcome change from the traffic.

I finally met two walking pilgrims. However – our meeting was brief as they were following the  route south to Fatíma (same route as the Santiago route but in reverse until they part company near Alvaiazere). They were from Brazil. Nice couple. We swapped stories about the routes ahead in my poor Portuguese then parted company. Everyone tells me that I WILL meet other pilgrims walking my way….

I reached Albergaria-a-Velha/Nova. Albergaria in the name gives away a clue to its ancient history. As part of the deal to found the town, the governing noble had to provide a hospital for the poor and travellers. Albergaria is the name given in Portuguese to such hostelries.  That was back in 1117 which indicates how long pilgrims have been using the route.  There is a short section of footpath between alls in the town, then back to the main road, and the truck stop where I was staying.  E

I do not have many photos to show you. It was a short day after the (almost) marathon of yesterday.   Finding a food when Portugal is playing in the Euro 2016 match was very difficult.

Tomorrow – Thursday 23 June 2016 – is the day for Brexit – or not…

Momentously ahead…

Camino Português – Day 12 – Mealhada to Mourisca Vouga

 

Long, hot roads and ‘The GP-X Files’

21 June 2016

First day of summer for we who live in the Northern Hemisphere. The day was the hottest yet and no clouds for the whole day.

The day started clear, bright and hot from the start. I followed the arrows, and was soon on a forest track. “Wonderful” I thought – but it lasted just a few hundred metres.

P1010929I do not have many photos to show you. The route jiggled around the N1’s route.

It wove through many little villages and one very modern, deserted sports complex in the middle of the countryside. Acadia, Arcos (where an old guy on a bike stopped to harangue me – as he did with everyone he passed), Alféloas (where I had a Coca-Cola and a chat with a French mother and daughter team running a small bar). The scenery was not great today, but the people were….

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The temperature logged 36.8°C. Along the roads, there were few trees and little shade. I crossed to walk under whatever shade I could find. I also took a break and a Coke in every village bar. It was the only way to survive.

There are some lovely, well maintained chapels along the route.

I saw my first pilgrims today!!! They were on bikes and just shouted ‘Bom Caminho’ to me, but seeing other pilgrims has been as difficult as finding Life on Mars or the Higgs Boson. This was a great day and I remind myself that I am not alone. However nother walker would be nice to talk to from time-to-time as motivating oneself for repeated days of silent walking is not easy.

A word of caution also to any who follow me.  Some roads are VERY narrow, and the sides cut from the rock.  Be very careful.

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Towards the end of my walk today, I walked through the very pleasant town of Agueda.  The name seems to imply water, and it is set on a wide, slow river. It is entered through a park, which is a brief respite from the incessant tarmac.

Today my final distance was 37.99km – according to my trusty Garmin (ETrex 35T).  My route at the start however showed just 27.73km….!  I would not have set up any day for this distance. My legs are telling me however that my logged distance is probably correct.  I realise now that the GPX files sent to me by an earlier pilgrim have two basic flaws.

1 – they follow a route which the arrows do not follow _ and –

2 – where they do coincide, the accuracy in the GPX route following around curves, which it tends to approximate to straight lines is not great. This was an aspect of old GPS units that they could not accommodate many ‘waypoints’ on a route.  As a result, I shall be cleaning up my files and offering them to anyone who wants them for their Camino Português.

There is so much coverage of Brexit on the news. I get the impression here that while many are frightened of the hole left in the EU budget if the UK leaves, many more would like Portugal to do the same.  My poll is based on just a handful of conversations, but they all seem to show the same ideas. Friday will be interesting…

I am In a small motel in Mourisca Vouga called Castro.  It is in a rundown industrial area and not a great looking venue. I walked 500m to eat at a fish restaurant last night. It was OK, but not great and it was expensive. However – there is a MacDonalds just 200m away, and I feel the temptation to eat a Sausage-and-Egg McMuffin tomorrow.

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Camino Português – Day 11 – Coimbra to Mealhada

 

Asphalt….!

20 June 2016

My mum’s birthday had she been with us. It has been 10 years since she passed away and I still miss her.

I had thought to call today’s blog ‘I am a Roads Scholar‘, as today was all about roads.  In almost 31km, only 1 km near the end was NOT on asphalt.

P1010907I was late setting off as I had to wait for shops to open in order to buy a replacement adaptor. The morning was refreshingly cool as Coimbra lay under a blanket of valley mist.  Finding the arrows through the little streets was not easy. They are old and few and far between.  For anyone wanting a tip on how to find your way out of Coimbra here it is:

Walk down the old  centre street to see the wonderful old church and square.

Then left to follow the signs leading to MacDonalds.

100m after MacDonalds, take the road left under the railway to a cycle track which heads North.

After that, keep on the roads heading North. The arrows are more obvious.

The first village to take a break is Trouxemil. Lovely little family shop/café across from the statue of a Pilgrim.

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The sun had burned off the mist by 9:30 and by 10:30 the temperature was reaching 30°C with higher to come.

It is difficult but not  impossible to get lost as after Sargento Mor, the route soon joins the busy N1/IC1. This is one of the main arterial roads of Portugal.  The route takes the walker along the hard shoulder.  The traffic is relentless.  Cars and trucks whizz past just a couple of metres away.

The N1 seems never-ending. Truck stops (often abandoned) as well as BBQ, pizza oven and tomb/tombstone dealers are the only things to see.

After about 8km there is a minor road to the left to Mala. Watch for it – as I missed it. However another road to Mala presents itself a few hundred metres later. It is still asphalt, but the peace of a country road after noise of the N1 is pure paradise.

The route then finds its way through more little villages. The N1 is never far away below. Shortly before reaching Mealhada, there is a track through olive trees which leads after 1km to…the N1….

At the start of the track there is the first sign I have seen telling me the distance to Santiago. It shows 345km and advertises the Albergue de Mealhada where I am staying.

Mealhada has a bright centre, but as you walk in, you pass closed little enterprises. The ‘Institute of Vines and Wines’ lies sadly derelict which seems strange as wine production and consumption elsewhere is increasing.

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The temperature reached 34.2°C according to my GPS’s log. Very tiring. I was so tired that when I went into a pharmacist to buy toothpaste, I found – later – that I had bought denture adhesive….

Along the N1 once more to Residençial Hílario where the Albergue is. The N1 at Mealhada is lined with restaurants – all advertising just one thing – spit-roast suckling pig. There are so many restaurants that they must be successful, which means somewhere close by there must be huge pig farms – but I did not see them.

Washed my clothes which dried quickly, then next door to the restaurant to eat and watch England play Slovakia (0-0 by the way).

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I have seen only one other pilgrim – a cyclist – in the last four days. Today I met one more. A Canadian going South from Santiago. He had seen just a few others after Porto. This really is the Camino less travelled.

Tomorrow is forecast to be hotter….

Camino Portugués Day 10 again – Condeixa-a-Nova to Coimbra

 

The heart of Lusitania

19 June 2016

Today is Fathers’ Day – and I got a call from both of my boys…..YEAAH!

Once again, a hot start to a hot day. I had lost sight of all yellow arrows as I came into Condeixa-a-Nova. Finding them again, as I had used maps to plan my route and which did not seem to correspond with the route makers, was quite difficult. It was not until I reached Casconhas after almost 45 minutes of searching did I join them for certain.

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The route today was along short lengths of tracks between outer suburbs. Some nicely kept churches and Pastelarias. I stopped for breakfast in one and felt quite the outsider. The place was full of families. Sunday breakfast seems to be a family event.

The route was urban for the most part. Beautiful gardens and exquisite Bougainvillea.

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High point (metaphorically) was going into Queen/Saint Isabella’s palace. This year marks 500 years since her beatification. I am not into the sainthood ideals, but she does seem to have been a good monarch, and is the patron saint of Coimbra.

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Today’s route also taught me a little about the original heartland of Portugal  – Lusitania. I met some people today who are very proud of this heritage.  However that brings me to what looks a very sad fate for an old edifice. Just after Cruz dos Morouços, the Camino crosses then follows the main N1 highway. In its building, an old aqueduct was blocking its route – and so the aqueduct was destroyed. I do not think it is Roman – probably 16~18 century from its stonework, but it had its heritage. Luckily Coimbra guards many other artifacts  – including a true Roman aqueduct well.

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Coimbra is a beautiful, bright and vibrant university town. Old buildings, new bridges and lots of people enjoying the sunny 30°C afternoon. Sadly – no Fado music in the street this time.

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One thing to note – The few Portuguese people who know about the Brexit campaign seem as equally divided in opinion as the British. I have seen a lot of posters in Portugal saying that Portugal has had enough of both the EU and the Euro. If Britain votes ‘out’ this week, I suspect other countries may soon be demanding their own referendum.

I walked around the many alleys and little hidden ‘praças’. Tiny little bars in tiny little streets where I sat in the shade for a bowl of the ubiquitous soup that seems to be part of the diet here.

Tomorrow I have to wait for the shops to open in order to buy an electrical adaptor (I have left mine in Condeixa-a-Nova)….

Camino Português – Day 9 again – Ansião to Condeixa-a-Nova

Roman ruins and the river that disappeared.

18 June 2016

Today proved to be longer than I had planned – almost 35km in total.

It was a bright morning with hardly a cloud as I left the Solar da Rainha. The roads were empty. Within one kilometre however, the arrows were taking me away from the direct route that I had put together on my GPS from the maps and the and guide.  The route was beautiful, and took me through some lovely villages.

P1010862I passed farmers clearing land for more cash-crop eucalyptus plantations. They showed me how they benefit in the early years of the trees by growing potatoes between the rows. However, we are clearly far from a paperless society. Eucalyptus smells nice in the rain, but so too did the pine trees.

P1010839The route is the undulating and the paths extremely narrow in places where they serve on the Camino Portuguese.

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The villages are becoming larger, and perhaps more opulent as I get nearer to Coimbra. One such is Alvorge. The village is well kept. The central square has up-to-date maps and a new tap for drinking water (Note – most carry a warning that they are either not for drinking or are uncontrolled. Normally I take the risk, but one tap ran with water so brown, that I now wait for those which are given an official OK).

Alvorge is high on a hill with a commanding view across the countryside. Its church and huge white cross are beautifully maintained. It welcomes pilgrims with an Albergaria which I had not picked up in my research.

The ‘arrowed’ path wound a way across this dry landscape with my lunchtime stop of Rabaçal in view but seemingly getting no nearer. I went past one orchard, with a Danger sign. Not sure what made it so dangerous, but best not to find out…

Perigo

P1010867Eventually I reached Rabaçal but one hour later than planned, and my GPS showing over 5km more than anticipated. The Camino Arrows had followed a much less direct route.

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Batteries – at least the human kind – recharged I now headed along paths towards Conimbriga that I had followed in April. The big difference was that the hills were visible and it was dry underfoot. I saw no one for the next 12km. The only life came from a band of dogs in Fuente Coberta.

When I last walked this Camino, there were few untethered dogs. Perhaps the rain kept them in. Now however, they sleep in the sunshine in the little roads but come to life when they hear me approach. Sadly their response can be aggressive and if in a group, quite intimidating. Clashing and waving sticks as they get close does cool their ardour.

The upland streams are now dry. I took a photo of one last April of a running chalk stream covered in flowers. I again show it now for comparison with the same stream at almost exactly the same location. The flowering river plants now cover the dry bed in a dry, silky straw.

On towards Conimbriga. This time the ruins were in sunshine instead of mist. They truly are impressive and well managed.

Journey’s end – after almost 35km – was the Casa de Hospededes Ruinas. The guy on reception greeted me in German, and asked which language did I want to speak – Portuguese, English, French, Spanish or German. English I responded. He carried on in German, in which I am OK, but not great. I responded in English at which he looked puzzled. He did not speak English, nor French not Spanish. Only German and Portuguese. I did my best to convince him to speak Portuguese – his native language – but he kept wandering back to German. It was surreal. In time he told me that he had worked in Germany for many years, and that had become his daily language until he retired and returned to Portugal. He automatically spoke German, even instead of his mother tongue. It was surreal.

Clothes washed and dried quickly in the sunshine and breeze then out at 7pm for a well deserved meal. In fact a great meal in Manjar Romana watching Portugal and Austria.

Tomorrow is a – hopefully- short day into Coimbra.

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Camino Português – Day 8 again – Alvaiázere to Ansião

Cork, Butterflies, Dogs and Shrines

17 June 2016

I omitted some of yesterday’s photos, so that is corrected today.

The meal in the Café Quintinho was truly good. I loved it. This time through Alvaiázere was so much better than my last time. Carlos Pinheiros, the owner of the Albergaria Pinheiros, is in love with the help he gives to pilgrims. He has the most special of all the Credençial stamps that you could imagine. It comprises a special press, silver foil and sealing wax. Take a look.

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He also prizes John Brierley’s guide books – and I got that room. Like them or loathe them, JB’s guide books are synonymous with Caminos the world over.

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Beautiful morning, heralding a beautiful day. One other pilgrim – Sérgio from Italy – started off on his bike shortly after me. He has to get off to push the bike uphill in the steep and rocky sections, so it was not until I was 7km into today’s route that he caught up with me. We had passed the highest point of the Camino Portugues at around 6km. It is not a marked spot by the way, and few know of it.

I had my first encounter with Cork trees. They are now a protected species, I was told.  A pity and a blessing – as I have a great affection for their usage…

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The roads are narrow and hardly used. They wend their way hrough the upland villages of Beirão. They are quiet and there is no one in sight on them for many kilometres. The flowers grow in profusion along the verges and on the rocky slopes. They in turn attract the many different butterflies. Ringlets, Blues, Marbled Whites, Queen of Spain Frittilaries. The list is endless. This is a Garden of Eden for butterflies.

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At many of the remote crossroads are small shrines. These are dedicated to different saints, many of whom I have never heard of. The flowers are always fresh in the shrines, which means that they are cared for by people who wish to invest in their spiritual future. I am not RC, but I feel pleased that there are such souls.

The path left the road from time to time. When it is a footpath, you can quickly see that few walk (or ride) the Camino Português. The paths are narrow and rocky yet these selfsame paths have been used for almost 1,000 years – along the route where St James is said to have taught almost 2,000 years ago.  There are fountains (taps) for the weary traveller too. Many dedicated to various saints. However – few work. In one hamlet was a fountain/tap to Sao João (St John the Baptist). He would have had a hard time baptising anyone with that fountain. Totally dry. There were no places to get water en route today.

The houses mostly had guard dogs, and would not let me anywhere near the gates to ask at the houses. They can appear very vicious as you approach. Thankfully waving my sticks tends to make them think twice before attempting to take a chunk of me.

So – carry plenty of water is my advice for today…

Ansião is a lovely little town with a meat shopping/municipal centre. A small chalk stream runs through. The town was on the main Coimbra – Lisbon route when Coimbra was the capital of Portugal. Queen (Saint) Isabella would bathe in the stream in one of the two ‘bathing tanks’ whenever she travelled. Her bathing there apparently purified the water and blessed the land around with good crops.  My route tomorrow will broadly follow her road towards Coimbra.  For tonight, I stay in the appropriately named ‘Solar da Rainha’. The JB book does not feature Ansiāo as a stopover, so they get few pilgrims. Nevertheless – they are looking after me very well. Good room, good food and good wine. Locally made chorizo, borrego  and potatoes drizzled in the local olive oil. Life is good….

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Camino Português -The Restart – Alvaiázere 1 – Porto 0

This is a short blog.

I returned to Porto, amid some incredible thunderstorms. Honestly – I have never witnessed the like.

Today was not about slow walking but about high speed trains.  Well – not always the case….

Getting to Porto Campanhã (main rail station) was easy, but after walking to the Cathedral, Porto’s Metro was – frankly – awful. Tickets which had not printed properly; assistants who literally hid rather than assist;  Telephone operators at Porto Metro who repeatedly dropped every call. My experience says – avoid Porto Metro. if you can

The trains (Comboios de Portugal) on the other hand were excellent – as is the Albergaria Pinheiros. I have been granted the ‘John Brierley’ room. He is the author of the book on the Camino Português which I have criticised so much for its 30+ km average each day. Poetic justice perhaps…

Good meal in the Café Quintino (small farm). Simple food but good.

Tomorrow is a short day to Ansião. Only 15km but the highest point on the Camino Portuguese.  At 440m asl, I wonder if it will be marked…?  However – waiting for my train in the morning sunshine on Porto is …bliss.

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