Thursday, May 1, 2014

Valenca to Faro (859km, 6,520m)

Route Map and Elevation Profile

The Story So Far

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

After cycling from Pisa to Sicily with Bike Adventures in May last year, I dropped in on my new grand-daughter, Alexandra, in Singapore on the way home. Now known as AJ, Alexandra was born on May 7th, 2013, while both grandfathers were cycling in Italy (see Pisa to Sicily by Bike).

Now almost one year old, AJ celebrated her faux "first" birthday on April 13th, ostensibly because her parents were in Canberra, and her grandfathers are going to be away (again) for her real birthday. Here she is with her proud parents - Tony's daughter Carla, and my son Robert.

And here are some of the men currently in her life - father Robert, grandfather Rob, and grandfather Tony. I'm sure there'll be a few more men in her life one day!

And just in case anyone thought that Team Tony had disbanded, or gone into hibernation, it's been in training almost from the day the Pisa to Sicily ride finished almost a year ago. Here's some of the Canberra "peloton" on its recent biannual ride from Canberra to the coast (by MTB).


But before you can go cycling in Europe, you first have to pack your bike! I usually start with a $20 Qantas bike box, some bubble wrap, and as much polystyrene as will fit into the gaps. For this bike, the pedals are removed, the front wheel comes off, the seat and post are also removed, the handle bars are disconnected from the stem and then everything bubble wrapped and gently "squeezed" into the box. 

Actually, there's plenty of volume in these boxes, especially for a road bike. It's more the length, height and width of the bike that need to be reduced to fit.

For more details of the packing, I have photos! You'll just have to believe me for now that the box below now contains the bike and all its bits and pieces.

And hopefully this will be enough luggage to last a month...

Once packed and ready to go there was still time for one final ride, and the obligatory peloton farewell lunch at one of its regular coffee stops (the Istanbul restaurant in beautiful downtown Tuggeranong):

Canberra - Sydney - Singapore - London - Porto

Wednesday, April 30th and Thursday, May 1st, 2014

These two days were always going to be tough, totaling 40 hours of flights and transits, starting in Canberra and ending in Port (Portugal). There were four flights totaling 24 hours, and three transits adding to 16 hours.

The weather in Canberra was a sunny Autumn say, as Team Tony gathered for the first time at the airport. 

Both Rob and Tony W succumbed to the $100 surcharge for an extra piece of luggage (their bikes), but Tony D was not deterred, and encouraged by Qantas staff managed to rearrange his luggage so that the bulk of his clothing for the next three months fitted into two (rather heavy) pieces of hand luggage. Just how many Kathmandu shirts can one fit into ones hand luggage anyway? 

The flights to Sydney and then to Singapore were uneventful, and everyone sat separately in their randomly allocated or pre-reserved seats. However, in Singapore the Team split onto two flights due to quirks of the BA booking system - Tony D stayed on BA16, and Rob and Tony W moved to BA12, which somewhat confusingly departed Singapore and arrived in London earlier than the original BA16.

Rob thought he'd booked an exit row, but it turned out the BA web site had hidden this row and he ended up on row back, and stuck on the window. To make matters worse, Tony W quite by chance turned up in the same row. Ahhhh, they thought, at least nobody will come between them! Unfortunately, more for her than for them, a pretty, young, and slim(!) Singapore girl turned up to spoil their comradery (no, she's not crying, just putting eye drops in):

For one optimistic moment, a solution appeared in the form of a free row on the other side of the cabin. Tony W raced for it and made himself comfortable while Rob did his best with sharing three seats with Miss Singapore. It wasn't to last - a group from a late connecting flights boarded and took up every remaining seat on the flight. We were stuck for 13 hours on a totally full and aging 747...

In London at 5:00am on a drizzly day, Tony W and Rob made themselves comfortable in the BA lounge with a view to their recently arrived flight. They could only hope the weather in Portugal would be better than this.

They got stuck into the free food and drinks (too early for a G&T even for Rob), had showers, and used their various technology to locate the soon to arrive Tony D (who, atypically for him, had to acquire enough technology before he could be located).

The rest of the wait consisted of Rob remaining ensconced in the BA lounge, Tony D resigned to spending the day with the less fortunate in the public bar, and Tony W enjoying his (single) guest status with Rob in the lounge, and occasional mate status with Tony D in the public bar. Talk about teamwork!

Sadly, it was all too good to last! On arrival in Porto there was one important thing missing - Rob's bike. After lots of investigation it apparently got left behind in Singapore, ETA in Port Sunday - the day after the ride begins. 

This news didn't deter us from taking the metro into Porto for dinner, but it did delay the departure until well after 9:00am. There were some tired travelers, and some not very hungry ones as well. But, as Rob said, the trip was worth it, and a bottle of red and some Portuguese sardines soon woke everyone up. The local river front is fantastic:

And the main railways station has a nice tiled entrance:

But down by the river some weary travelers were a little cold and need the comfort of the restaurant supplied blankets (it was not Canberra in winter, that's for sure).

Another 30 minute metro trip and were back in our rooms by 12:30am. That makes almost 48 hours on the "road" and almost no sleep for some of us. Tomorrow is another day, and hopefully it will bring good news...


Friday, May 2nd, 2014

By Friday morning the situation was looking brighter. An 8:00am walk back to the airport to get an update on the situation:

And fortunately BA advised the bike would arrive in Porto that night and then be shipped to the hotel in Valenca, hopefully in time for a Saturday morning start. I'll believe it when I see it, but I'm more optimistic than when I went to bed last night.

In the morning we were collected by Rob and Mike from Bike Adventures. I knew Rob from my ride from Lands End to John O'Groats in 2010, and Mike from the same ride as well as last year's Pisa to Sicily ride.

They took us north 120 km to Valenca on the Spanish border and the start of the Portugal Top to Bottom ride. The hotel was nice, but unusual in that it had a fortress on the hill opposite, some rather dingy shops on either side, and a market garden complete with rooster at the back.


After settling in, we caught up with Dereck from last year's Pisa to Sicily ride over a few cheap Portuguese beers. The price of food and alcohol in Portugal will become a recurring theme during this blog!

After the beers we set off to explore the fortress which was much larger than I expected. It also reminded me of similar structures in Pamplona and Barcelona in Spain.

The particular building in the old town inside the fortress reminded be of the architecture of Galicia in Spain to the north.


We did a bit of exploring of the fortress, returned to the hotel, and then went back for dinner at a restaurant in the old town. Sadly, while this area is quite a tourist trap, business appears to be bad in Portugal at the moment, especially those associated with tourism. On the other had, there seems to have been a lot of investment in infrastructure in recent year.

After dinner we returned to the bar near the hotel to catch up with old and new friends.

I went to bed around 11pm still not knowing whether I would have a bike that night or the next day.

Day 1 - Valenca to Barcelos (80km, 1170m)

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

Route Map and Garmin Ride Statistics

Having gone to bed without a bicycle, it was with some trepidation that I woke early and went to reception around 6:00am to get the "news", hopefully good. And it was! The non-English speaking night porter said "bicicleta?" and I said "sim!", and he gave me a thumbs up!

Apparently, the bike arrived by courier an 1:00am and they clearly (and fortunately) decided against waking me. The box was in near perfect condition and I took it back to my room to unpack and assemble the bike.

It had been very well packed, if I do say so myself! Thank you Prue for all the polystyrene, and Masters for the inexpensive roles of bubble wrap:

One hour later, and still well before the 7:30am breakfast, the bike was ready to go and the packing back in the box for transport by Bike Adventures van on the nine day ride to Faro where it will all get packed up again.

After breakfast, everyone assembled up in the walled city for a briefing and group photo. The main purpose of this particular location was to have Spain in the background and therefore "prove" that we had indeed ridden from the top to the bottom of Portugal.

The group assembled, the back row taking care not to take one too many steps backwards and fall into the "moat" ten meters below!

The first 20km or so was actually quite tough, certainly harder than any of the Pisa to Sicily ride. This was mainly due to a couple of short, but quite steep climbs on the back roads away from the coast and the motorway. One look at my heart rate will provide the proof - maximum for the day 177 (I should be dead with a rate like this).

What goes up must come down, and in some cases this meant a cobbled road descent. Here Derrick being extra careful like the rest of us.

Climbing (and descending) over, at least for the time being, it was coffee time, and we found a lovely little bar beside a clear and rapidly flowing river. Outside the cities, Portugal seems to have lots of small villages, but with not much happening. The state of the economy is evident everywhere, and with coffee and beer costing only 1 euro, it will be a long recovery.

Back on the road the search turns to lunch, and we decide to stop in Ponte de Lima. About 2km from there we crossed a river and saw a lovely medieval bridge near a town.

We changed plans (we thought) and headed there, and "off route" for lunch (oh, and a refreshing beer).

The restaurant owner was a character, and he knew it. But when he could name every Australian cricket captain, knew Coogee and Bondi better than us, and could talk about every Clive Loyd (West Indian cricket hero), we forgave him.

His fixed price lunch was fantastic, and probably provided even more calories than we needed to finish the ride. He admited that one thing the Portugese took from Brasil was its cuisine, and he was right (note the bean and pork dish).

Heading towards our destination, and on a long climb, we came across a Camino de Santiago pilgrim shell sign. You see these all along the Camino in Spain, but this being the (so called) Portugese Camino, I didn't expect to see it (Prue - Joe and Jude would have walked through here).

The destination for the night, Barcelos, was celebrating its annual festival, and that had its up-sides and its down sides. On the positive, there was an interesting religious procession between the old fort and the cathedral. Out front were the mounted police, followed by the local band.

Following them were the faux sinners, penitents, icons and angels. I reckon some of these costumes are probably recycled for Xmas and Easter processions.

On the negative side, there was a huge amusement park set up in the middle of town, and this sat right on top of our "route" to the hotel. It was also right outside the front door of the hotel, and it wen on the whole night! That is, the amusements and rides went to 2:00am, the firework display was at midnight, and the "doof doof" disco was at 200 decibels and went continuously until 6:00am. I suspect the only reason for this time was so that the revelers could get to early mass. That's what I love about Catholics.

But Barcelos has a nice river, and this bridge was part of our route out of town the next day. Unfortunately, all the outdoor bars near the river and the bridge were closed for the festival - huh?!

And if anyone need proof that the Catholics know how to combine religion with a good party, here's more of it - the cathedral was decorated with fairy (Xmas?) lights.

Day 2 - Barcelos to Espinho (93km, 270m)

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Route Map and Garmin Ride Statistics

Departure from festival town Barcelos on a relatively "quiet" Sunday morning was via the bridge that we had walked across the previous day looking for a bar. The firework barriers had been removed and traffic was now flowing in both directions (OK, this shot was one I prepared earlier).

By the time morning tea time arrived we had teamed up with Steve and Neil - Steve being one of the co-owners of Bike Adventures, and Neil being his "room mate" for this trip. Let's face it, it's not hard to find a cafe/bar by the sea to have a drink along mots of this coast.

Further down the coast was (yet) another fort, this one attracting what looked like a motor bike convention (plus a few cyclists).

And just around the bend was a "replica" galleon which we suspected was left over from a Hollywood movie and purchased on eBay.

Lunch was a difficult choice today - we past so many lovely looking, authentic seafood restaurants just opposite the local fish markets, all selling the "catch of the day BBQ'ed fresh, that it was hard to decide not to stop. Perhaps it was the view of the fish markets which put us off, or perhaps that we knew we would never leave once we sat down. But we moved on and eventually settled on a nice restaurant on the beach. OK, so lunch was a steak sandwich, but that's all we need (plus a pint of the local beer to wash it down).

Coincidentally, today's ride came into Port where we had spent a night en route, including passing the very restaurant that we had dinner, before crossing the river for a view from the other side.

In fact, we even crossed the river on the lower level of the famous iron bridge, apparently commissioned in the late 18th century by the then king, and designed by Gustave Eiffel of tower fame.

The final 30km or so after lunch were quite fast, and all along the side of the river or the coast. The hotel is excellent, and as well as a real Queen size bed to myself, I also have half a view back up the coast.

We had a few beers on the beach (pints again), but left once the cigarette smokers got to us. The search for dinner was strange, but we eventually met a couple from the tour who had already chosen a restaurant and we decided that was sufficient recommendation. By the time we ate, virtually the whole of the tour had arrived and chosen the same place - that's what "word of mouth" can do for a business.

Blog done, I think tonight is going to be my best sleep for a week.