160625 – So This is Flat

Again I found myself one of the first people out of the albergue. I wonder if the culture on the Camino Costa differs from the Camino Frances? I headed out to a fairly simple day of cycling down the coast until I decided to stop somewhere short of Porto, 100 km away.

Of the castles marked on the GPS, most served as small outposts, not large fortifications. The first couple of castle I encountered had not opened their doors for the day yet. However the fortress in Viana do Castelo stood out. Forte de Santiago do Barra didn’t permit wandering through the inner administration buildings (still in use) but I could walk all around the inner and outer fortifications. They’d failed tdo lock one of the grates to the underground tunnel system, but prudence prevailed when I couldn’t decide if I could get back out. 

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While in Viana do Castelo I also searched for a Vodaphone office to reactivate my Portugal SIM for the phone. When I stopped for lunch by the side of the road swapped the Spain SIM for the Portugal one, and I noticed I had cell signal, but not data, so I called the support number. He said I neeeded only to add money to the account, which I could do at either a Vodaphone office or an ATM. Interesting that I couldn’t pay over the phone.

Switching over to cycling on the coast means I now cycle the Camino Costa, explaining the slightly strange location of last night’s albergue. Today I also saw a sign for EuroVelo 1. I saw EV1 last when cycling with Wayne and Charlotte down the coast south of Lisbon. Everywhere I turn I find myself on another trail.

All day I kept feeling like I cycled downhill, while cycling along the coast at sea level. I’ve been cycling in the mountains so long I can no longer distinguish what flat looks like. The strong tailwind made that even harder to distinguish, and I often looked down to speeds of 25-30 kph. On the other hand I spent much of the day on major highways, with heavy traffic.

30 km outside of Porto the population density started to increase, and I decided to go ahead and cycle all the way to Porto. I stopped at a McDonald’s for Internet access. After some research, I found a hostel close to the historic city center at a reasonable price, and reserved a bed for two nights. Directions to the hostel included “turn right at the McDonald’s”. This hostel’s for you Sam.

On the last leg into Porto, my major road merged with a larger road. With that transition I lost all but a couple of feet of shoulder and traffic increased to that of a major interstate. After a terrifying couple of kilometers I pulled off at the first exit I could find, and slowly navigated my way into Porto on smaller, surviveable, back roads.

Porto sits on top of a mountain range at the edge of the sea. A long climb into the city led to a harrowing descent on small one-way cobblestone roads. The city merges cycle-friendly and hostile. Roads directly on the coast have a lovely cycle path, but the city rests in the side of a mountain range, and those steep roads don’t support cycling.

A jarring change from a small Portuguese alburgue and my time on the Camino to registering at a hip tourist party hostel. The description indicating a bar was a clue. The description also indicated the address of the hostel as the 3rd floor, which meant another adventure with the bicycle and a small elevator.

Checked in, my next goal was to find the bus and train stations and see what I could learn about getting to Lisbon with a bicycle. Failing that, I know I can rent a car one-way at the airport 15 km outside of town as a backup plan.

Directions from the hostel led me to the train station only a couple of blocks away. After waiting in line at Information, I learned that each car on the train to Lisbon could take two bicycles, with no special packaging requirements (box, removed padals, bag, etc.). Buying a ticket would save a space for me. I purchased a ticket for 8:50 am tomorrow, and that was that. I have a ticket which clearly indicates my passage includes a bicycle. The past few trips I’ve build multiple layers of backup plan to transport the bicycle, and then encountered a trivial end solution. That’s all great until the one time the plan doesn’t work.

Returning to the hostel I thanked Reception for the information, and they perked up and handed back my passport. Everywhere requires my passport when I check in, and neither of us had noticed they hadn’t given it  back. One severe moment of panic averted.

While at train station I noticed the time and remembered the time zone changed when I left Spain for Portugal. Apparently I left the albergue REALLY early this morning – another instance of bike lag.

Secure in my transport to Lisbon, I located the destination train station on the map, and searched for a nearby hostel. I also highlighted bicycle shops in Lisbon to help find myself a central location. The ideal hostel happened to be the same hostel that Wayne and Charlotte stayed in on their way out, and happens to be close to the castle as well.

WIth the bed reserved, I emailed or send Facebook messages to three nearby bicycle shops. All three responded within the next couple of hours that they would have a box for me (one asked if I was sure I didn’t want five). In one evening I managed to solve two days worth of problems.

Today I considered bypassing Porto and trying to continue my way to Lisbon. Only 300 km away, I could get to Lisbon in three days (two if a pushed long and hard). However, I’ve cycled 360 km in the past three days. Six days of hard long cycling, and another mountain range between me and Lisbon. I’d arrive best case Tuesday night, with only one day to work out bicycle transport and little time to actually visit Lisbon.

Instead, tomorrow (Sunday) I should have a relaxing day of wandering Porto. Monday I take the train to Lisbon, and should manage to resolve the bicycle transport problems on the same day as I wander about and pick up a box or two. Two relaxing days in Lisbon before I head home.

Of course, I still have the train ride Monday. Not like those are ever stressful …

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