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  • Day24

    Our Wheels Start Spinning

    October 11, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☁️ 15 °C

    Our first impressions of Arraiolos were rather confused. In some respects it was a bit like being transported back to the 1950s and a time when shops were only open when the owners felt like working, when people still had time to sit and talk in the centre of town and where the only two colours of paint available were blue and white.

    By 9.00 am most of us were ready to start riding. After all, that is what we had come so far to do. The only trouble was the weather was looking threatening. From time to time a light drizzle started to fall. When I spotted a tiny patch of blue overhead, I boldly announced that "the rain was finished for the day" and that we would not be needing the wet weather gear most of us had donned. It turned out to be a little bit premature.

    There was another small problem. Our guide Jorge was yet to arrive, and he was the only one who knew where we were meant to be riding. Soon after 9.30 am he arrived and proceeded to explain that he would be driving the van to each important road junction and then showing us the way. It sounded simple, but I was not overly confident that it would work.

    Actually there was yet another small problem - the road immediately climbed up at a steep angle. Since most of us had not ridden a bike for several weeks, we were soon left stretched out over a large distance. I guess that was why the tail enders took a wrong turn and managed to get lost within the first 5 minutes. It was a worrying start.

    The lost sheep were eventually located and we worked hard to perfect the system. At one point we stopped outside a very old church. If I heard Jorge correctly, he explained that it had been built in 300 BC. That posed all sorts of problems in my head, but I guess I should not get bogged down with details.

    The road continued to climb and climb, making me wonder we were ever told that this region is very flat. After our very first day in the saddle, we all know now that it is simply not true.

    Our first stop for the day was at a large cheese farm. It was quite interesting watching the cheese being made, but by far the most interesting part was when the guide explained that the large Russian female cheesemaker was a fearful woman who continually worried that someone was going to steal her husband. I must admit that I would not have wanted to have been on the receiving end of a beating by Nina. The other fascinating attraction at the farm was a beautiful (and very large) three legged dog that seemed happy to follow after us. I can't remember what name was, but I think it might have been Hoppalong.

    I was curious why every building had been painted blue and white and asked whether that was the only colours available on the Portuguese colour chart. The reply was that it was to "keep away the flies". I think she was serious.

    It was while we were at the cheese factory that the weather took a turn for the worse. With steady rain now falling, Jorge explained that our planned picnic lunch would no longer be possible. We were told that we would be able to have it in the big hall instead. It certainly was an impressive space. The fireplace was the biggest I have ever seen and the mantlepiece was large enough to accommodate two huge stiffed boars. It was that sort of place.

    None of us were sure what happened next, but somehow it seemed to take an eternity for the picnic lunch to be ready and we didn't get back underway until about 2.30 pm in the afternoon. At the least the rain had stopped by that time and the sun eve started to make a reappearance.

    Of course the only way out of the cheese farm was up the same steep hill we had arrived by. When you combine a steep slope with bone shattering corrugations it makes for a serious hard work.

    Jorge had equipped Douglas and Brian with GPS units to help them find the way through some tiny off road tracks. That move was guaranteed to inject mass confusion into the peloton. The path deteriorated into a sandy cow track (complete with real cows) that had everyone quickly trying to perfect their mountain biking skills. In spite of the difficult riding, only Rhonda managed to actually fall off, although many others came very close.

    We finally arrived at the Winery which was to be stop number two. While most of the group went into the premises for a lengthy session of wine tasting, the rest of us sat outside and chatted. The winery was also famous for its huge collection of antique and beautifully restored carriages. Apparently the entire collection is worth many millions of Euros. It certainly was fascinating, but I was really starting to worry about the time. Sunset was rapidly approaching.

    We finally headed away from the winery and started climbing more huge hills. You could only imagine my horror when I saw that we had actually ridden right back into Arraiolos. After hours of riding we were right back where we had started from. It was now about 5 pm and I knew that there were only two hours of daylight remaining.

    Normally when you hear that you will be riding on a "rail trail" you imagine that it will be a lovely smooth surface to ride on, with almost no hills. This one was more like a sand pit, with numerous patches of treacherous deep sand. On several occasions my bike almost came to a complete halt, but somehow we all managed to keep moving ahead.

    We finally arrived at our destination Evora with only a few minutes of daylight remaining. The most impressive sight that greeted us was the towering city wall that seemed to continue for ever. It was with a huge relief that we eventually reached our home for the next two nights - the huge M'Ar De Ar Muralhas hotel. It has a four star rating, but inside it had a distinct "lived in" feeling that suggested that its grandest days were behind it. Nevertheless, the room was large, clean and very comfortable. It was a pity that the towel rail fell straight off the wall as soon as I touched it, but somehow I wasn't surprised.

    The restaurant that we enjoyed our evening meal was packed. I also noticed that it had a Michelin rating. When we saw the level of service experienced the quality of the food we could see why it was the most popular place in town.
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    Janna Thompson

    I am enjoying following the Ghostriders through Spain and Portugal. I look forward each day to another episode.

    Dennis Dawson

    Actually I was so tired when I got back to the hotel last night that I am surprised that I was able to make any sense at all. Say hi to the Ghostriders back home.

  • Day25

    A Hot Day in the Portuguese Dust

    October 12, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☁️ 23 °C

    The notes clearly described the today’s ride in the following way – “Easy over flat terrain, some dirt roads”. I am not sure who actually wrote that description, but I can assure you that it was written by a motorist, not a cyclist. Either that or the Portuguese definition of “flat” is completely different to that used in the rest of the civilised world.

    After the (almost violent) confrontations at the breakfast buffet and the problems presented by the complete lack of cutlery and good manners, we were really all looking forward to an easy flat ride. It seemed like it would be a great way to relax and enjoy some time in the Portuguese countryside. It certainly began pleasantly enough, although the going soon started to get harder when the first of about 200 hills started to appear. The close proximity of speeding cars also added to the difficulty factor. Jorge assured us that we would soon be away from the traffic, and he was partly truthful.

    The only problem was that, as soon as we left the highway, we found ourselves bouncing along a heavily corrugated dirt road. Not only was it real boneshaker material, but in many places it was covered with a thick and treacherous layer of fine dust. This would have been a very likely place to stage a fall, but our riders are a skillful lot, in spite of their advancing years. Due to some freak of nature, we all stayed upright and managed to make it to the first check point.

    We all left the bikes and struggled our way up what appeared to be a creek bed to reach an ancient Neolithic burial place. It certainly was breathtaking to see the huge granite slabs and try to imagine how they managed to move them into position. Looking around at the parched countryside all around I had to remind myself that we were actually in Europe. It looked more like a typical Australian bush landscape in the middle of summer.

    Unlike yesterday, the sky was mostly clear and it did not take long for the heat to start building up again. I wondered if we would have secretly preferred the rain, rather than the hot sun.

    We then bounced our way over more kilometres of dusty dirt roads, simultaneously shaking every part of our bodies that could move and inhaling lungfuls of dry dust at the same time. When Jorge then explained that we were about to begin a steep climb on an even worse road I am sure that some spirits sank. Nevertheless we started well, quickly seeking our lowest gears and our inner reserves. For the next half hour we bounced and ground our way slowly up the mountain till we reached the biggest stone dolmen in Europe. It was a massive cylindrical block of stone that had been erected pointing to the skies.

    As hard as it was to complete the first part of the climb, our work was only half done. We then had to continue up an even steeper climb to reach a huge cromeleque. In case you don’t know what that is, neither did we. It turned out to be a large collection of massive rocks that had been carefully placed in patterns at the top of a hill. Although not as tall as Stone Henge, there were far more rocks, so I guess that makes up for it.

    By this time we were growing hungry and Jorge found a shady spot for us to enjoy lunch. He even provided us with picnic chairs to sit our tired bodies on. The we faced the challenge of riding back down the heavily corrugated dirt road we had ridden up earlier. Although easier on the legs, it certainly required concentration and vigilance to avoid having a serious crash.

    At the bottom we counted heads to make sure that we had not suffered any casualties on the way down and then started the ride back to Evora. Although we had been told it was downhill all the way – it wasn’t. There were several more hills to climb (of course there were), until we finally joined the main highway back into Evora. Finally we could let our hair down (or we could have if we had any) and made up for lost time. It was a good feeling to be making good progress at last and we were very glad when we rolled back to the front of our hotel at 4.30 pm.

    It had been a solid day’s ride, but I think that everyone was rightly pleased with their efforts.
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    They had to cut the description short. Here's the original - “Easy over flat terrain, difficult over the rest, some dirt roads but mostly crevasse trails”

    Dennis Dawson

    I must admit that we were all pretty stuffed when we finished. They are now warning us that next Monday is the "really tough day".

  • Day29

    We Finish the Ride and End on a High

    October 16, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    For me, the final day of any long anticipated adventure, is always a day of mixed emotions.On the one hand there is the sense of relief that everything went according to the plans and I can finally relax a little, on the other hand there is often a feeling of disappointment that it can't go on just a little longer.

    After the trials and tribulations of the previous day, it was wonderful to awake to a mostly clear sky. The local weather bureau had assured us that there was no chance of rain, and they proved to be correct.

    Because the final day's ride was the shortest of the rain, we allowed ourselves the luxury of not getting underway till 10.00 am. We well know that every day's ride begins with a high (and always ends with one too), so it was a not a surprise to find ourselves immediately working our way uphill.Just to add a new level of difficulty, someone had decided to pave all the roads with rough cobblestones. Before we left the hotel, I had likened the final day of our Portugal ride to the final day of the Tour de France, however I had not expected it to be a replica of the rough cobbles of the Champs Elysees.

    We bounced and rattled our way slowly along, while Allan Barlin spent the time cursing every cobble stone that got in his way. This region is famous for the enormous marble quarries that pock mark the landscape, but you cannot understand the true scale of the operation until you see one of these up close. We quickly decided that it looked like a mighty dangerous place to work. If you didn't get flattened by a huge slab of marble,you would almost certainly choke on the marble dust and also go deaf from the noise of the machinery.

    At one point we stopped at a marble showroom where the lady tried valiantly to explain to us how the process of mining and preparing marble is actually done. Unfortunately she only spoke 4 words of English, so it made the explanation a little difficult. When she realised that her four words of English were slightly inadequate, she recruited Mary to help with the translation. Of course Mary only spoke three words of Portuguese, so the dialogue was still a little limited. The Portuguese documentary movie she showed us made even less sense as it didn't even have four words of English. I discovered that I must be allergic to marble dust as the place just made my throat itch from the moment I walked in the door.

    We were all relieved to be free of the cobblestones and to finally enjoy some glorious riding through idyllic rural farmlands. For once the roads were flat(tish) and the progress was almost effortless. Our riders chatted happily as they rode along and nobody was in in particular hurry for the ride to finish. From time to time we stopped to look for those elusive green doors that Jorge told us about.

    After lunch in an ancient private winery, we resumed the journey to Estremoz, which was to be our final destination for the ride. Of course the highest point of the city is the royal castle, and that is where we would be staying for the night. After our amazing stay in the convent, it was hard to imagine that the standard could be raised even further, but I think it was.

    The Castelo de Estremoz is another magnificent building belonging to to the Portuguese Royal Family. The huge castle tower dominates the surroundings and the attached hotel is like a living museum and testimony to regal wealth and power.

    As the arrived at the base of the tower we all congratulated each other on the fine achievement and then posed for the final group photograph. In the centre of the photograph, in pride of place, were two scallop shells inscribed with the names "Paul" and "Jan". They had completed the final day (and every previous day) right along with us. I only wish they could both have shared that moment with us.

    After checking into my palatial room and throwing away my tattered riding gloves and cycling shorts, I decided to climb the narrow staircase right to the top of the tower. It rewarded my effort with sensational 360 degree views of the whole region. I spent quite some considerable time savouring the moment and thinking back over some of the magical moments we had shared together. When I looked down at the statue of Santa Isabel, I noticed that the two scallop shells were still there where we had placed them. It seemed entirely appropriate.

    Tomorrow morning the group will disburse and head their own separate ways, however I am sure that we will all take away a huge number of incredible memories to relive in the years ahead.

    A Final Footnote
    One matter has been an ongoing topic for discussion and confusion throughout the past 10 days. There are two words for Thank You in Portuguese - they are "obrigado" and "obrigada". Although it seemed to be very complicated as to when you should use each variant (on one occasion, one of our team got so confused she actually said abracadabra), the rule is actually quite simple. If you are a male speaker you use the term "obrigado" and if you are female it is "obrigada". It makes no difference whether you are addressing a male or female, it is the gender of the speaker that is relevant. Simples. Why did we make it so damned complicated ?
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    Obrigado for sharing the tales of your adventure.

    Marj Dowie

    Yes obrigada!! I’ve looked forward to reading your newsletter and seeing the photos every day. Thank you for taking the time to write about it all and for making the effort at the end of the day when you’ve been tired!!

  • Day23

    Goodbye Lisbon, Hello Arraiolos

    October 10, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    After spending such a pleasant couple of days in Lisbon, I must admit that it would have been easy to stay a little longer. Unfortunately that wasn't an option - we had a schedule to keep. Our instructions had clearly told us to be ready and waiting outside the Millennium BCP Bank, in order to catch our bus to Arraiolos at 2 pm precisely.

    That only gave me a few hours to spend my final morning in Lisbon. I first wondered along the now familiar main pedestrian street to the waterfront. It was still early in the morning for the familiar buskers to have set up shop, but obviously not too early for the gypsy beggars to be out and about hounding everyone in sight. I thought it somewhat amusing that they must have made a bulk purchase of crutches at some time. We saw about a dozen gypsy girls regularly working the streets . Each one of them was equipped with a single crutch, although even a blind man could see that there was nothing wrong with them. When they were out of sight of the masses, their limps immediately disappeared.

    One place that I had passed many times over the past couple of days was a towering iron structure in the centre of the city, with a viewing platform at the top. In order to get to the top you pay 5 Euro for a ticket to the ancient elevator. Each previous time that I had passed by the queues had been so long that I lost interest. On this occasion, however, the queue was very short so I took my opportunity and bought a ticket. A few moments later I was standing atop the structure and looking down at Lisbon. It certainly offered a great view of the city.

    After checking out of the hotel and having lunch,it was time to collect my luggage and wait for the bus. Fortunately it was only about 10 minutes late. We were also pleased that it was a very comfortable Mercedes Benz bus. Soon we were leaving Lisbon and passing over the huge suspension bridge that we had seen from the city.

    We were on our way to the small rural town of Arraiolos, about 130 km from Lisbon. Most of the trip was undertaken on a huge freeway with almost no other traffic. We were also interested to pass extensive plantations of cork trees, where you could clearly see how the bark had been systematically harvested from the trunks.

    About two hours later we arrived at our destination, although the bus driver had some difficulty navigating the narrow one way streets. Fortunately I had my Garmin GPS with me and was able to provide him with the necessary directions.

    Our home for the evening is the Casa de Platana Hotel. It was certainly unlike any hotel we had stayed in thus far on this trip. Two things it had in abundance were character and candles.

    Later in the afternoon we met our guide Jorge and collected our bicycles. The consensus of opinion was that the bikes were well prepared and very comfortable to ride.

    Our evening meal was at the Restaurante Pelourinho. I think I can safely say it was easily the best meal we have enjoyed so far on this trip. The food was excellent and the wait staff were attentive and very helpful.

    Tomorrow we start riding.
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  • Day26

    Heat, Hills and Headwinds

    October 13, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☁️ 26 °C

    A word of explanation - before I start today's blog I thought it might be a good idea to explain what the main reason for the blog actually is. The simple truth is that, if I do not record the day's events soon after they are completed, I very quickly forget what I actually did. The main point of the blog is simply to record my own experiences before they disappear completely. The blog is usually written late in the day and is just a compilation of what I remember of the previous few hours. I know that there are often spelling mistakes and omissions, but that is representative of my state of mind when I am putting in down. In the past I have sometimes used the blog to produce a hard cover book for myself to keep as a souvenir of the trip. I may do the same again.

    So much for the preamble, now for the blog....

    The lot of the touring cyclist is not an easy one. Not only do w e have to regularly contend trials and tribulations such as punctures, aggressive dogs, hail storms and saggy lycra, we also have the three most formidable adversaries of all. These are sometimes known as the "Three Horrible Aitches" - Hills, Heat and Headwinds. Any one of these can be sufficient to take all enjoyment from a pleasant ride, but when you score the perfect trifecta, you know you are in for a battle.

    The day started pleasantly enough. When I came down for breakfast at 7.00 am I was expecting another repeat of the ugly scenes of the previous morning. The thought of contending with another hundred or so hungry bus travellers all jostling for the sole remaining portion of scrambled eggs would have been enough to make me cry. Not to mention the problem of the non existent cutlery and the ill tempered waitress.

    In fact the situation could not have been more different. There were only a small number of people there and everything was perfectly civil and orderly. I not only got my scrambled eggs, but was able to get a knife and fork as well. I did not even have to fight for a slice of raisin bread. It was only when I was about to get a glass of orange juice that I received a tap on my shoulder. I immediately thought I must have queued from the wrong direction and was about to receive a torrent of abuse, but standing before me was a short American lady who obviously had something on her mind.

    "Why are you called the Ghostriders ?" she asked.

    I was sorely tempted to make up some tale about us being the most feared cycling group south of the equator, however I took a few minutes to explain the real story. She even seemed interested, until her jealous husband over and called her away.

    The trip notes had promised another "easy day" of about 50 km. That sounded like a bit of a walk in the park, however once again the notes were completely wrong. This is definitely NOT flat countryside and we have now learned why no one in Portugal rides a bike. No one. The region is actually full of nasty little (and not so little) hills and we managed to ride up every one of the them (some of them twice).

    The ride began with a visit to the 450 year old university that was inside the Evora city walls. Not only does this institution have a history almost dating back to Adam and Eve, but the students still wear the formal uniform of a black suit and academic gown. It certainly was steeped with history.

    Jorge then explained that he wanted to take us to a "leather factory". I immediately recalled numerous previous incidents of visits to so called factories which turned out to be nothing other than an ambush to take money from tourists. He also could have told us that the factory was at the top of a huge hill. In fact everything in this place is at the top of a hill.

    With much panting and sweating we reached the factory and could see that its finest days were well behind it. The ancient place was full of rusty old machines, cobwebs and foul odours. When I looked up I saw a crumbling asbestos roof that was probably dropping huge flakes right on top of our heads. Huge piles of hides were stacked to the ceiling.

    Jorge went on to explain that the place used to have 16 employees, but only 2 remained. I assumed that the rest had been dragged into the unprotected machines or died of asbestosis. The last two people standing were a father and son team who apparently ran the entire production by themselves. I had to admit that were both very friendly and had lovely smiles.

    At the end of the tour we might have bought something if all the goods were not about 7 sizes too small for even the tiniest of us. They were obviously expecting an influx of dwarfs who would all need leather jackets.

    The next stop was lunch in a local cafe. We had to enter by going behind the counter, down a steep narrow staircase, through a secret doorway and finally found ourselves sitting at a large table in a very small room. The food itself was excellent and the staff were very friendly and eager to please.

    When we left the heat was beginning to build up again. There was also something else building up. Ever since we had arrived in Europe we had hardly ever had any hint of wind, but today it finally arrived. It would have been welcome if it had blown right in our faces for the rest of the day.

    We then spent the next few hours grinding our way up an endless succession of hills and fighting the head wind at the same time. The only thing we could be thankful for was the fact that there were no dirt roads. The entire ride was on bitumen, which certainly was a relief.

    As I neared the final roadside stop I was conscious of the fact that my nether regions were becoming very uncomfortable. I tried lifting myself out of the saddle to gain some temporary relief. It helped for a few seconds, but I was very happy to finally pull up alongside the van and climb from the bike.

    To my surprise the main topic of conversation among the riders was how sore each of their bums were. In fact it was the very first thing that every rider said when they pulled over. The peloton had obviously fallen victim to some sort of mass saddle soreness. It was a strange phenomenon indeed.

    Fortunately we only had a few kilometres left to go. Jorge had organised another wine tasting for late in the afternoon, but I told him that I had absolutely no interest and would rather head straight to the hotel instead. About half of the riders also decided to join me, while the others headed to the nearby winery.

    Although the GPS stated that the ride had finished at about 52 km, the combination of numerous hills and the continual headwind certainly made it feel much further.
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  • Day27

    The Best Cycling Day So Far

    October 14, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Our brief time in Reguengoz de Monsaraz proved to be quite eventful. As we rode into the town we soon discovered that the council had been very busy destroying all of the footpaths and most of the roads. I suspect that they might eventually get around to putting them back again, but in the meantime anyone walking around the town has to navigate past piles of dirt and slabs of concrete.

    We had an enjoyable dinner at a local restaurant where the owner spent most of his time and his limited vocabulary in telling us what a fantastic bloke he was. To emphasize the point he had decorated the dining room with large photos and drawings of himself. To be fair, the food was pretty good.

    I had not been long in bed when a mighty storm broke overhead, complete with rolling thunder, lightning and heavy rain. My main concern was over whether it would be still pouring down in the morning. In spite of the rain I did eventually fall asleep, only to be awoken when the room was brightly illuminated. At first I thought it might have been a police raid because I had not shown my passport when checking into the hotel, however it turned out to be the automatic emergency lighting. There had obviously been a power blackout and there was no way to turn off the emergency lights. It was like trying to fall asleep under a searchlight.

    In the morning I awoke to find the rain stopped. It was not the only thing that had stopped – the internet had also stopped working and no one seemed to know how to turn it off and on again to get it working again. The television at least, was still working and the lead story was of how Portugal had been hit by one of the worst storms in history. Winds of up to 170 kph had destroyed much of the trees of Lisbon and the north of the country had suffered huge damage. That was the region we had been in just 4 days earlier, so we counted our blessings that our hardships had been relatively minor by comparison.

    It was about this time that I witnessed one of the most amazing sights of my lifetime. While I was sitting in my room, gazing at the screen of my notebook computer, I heard a rustling noise close by. I glanced across to see that Helen was actually climbing in through my open window. At first I thought it was some sort of joke, but realized that she was intent on climbing the whole way in. It took a while for my addled brain to click into gear and the only thing I could think of to say was “What the hell are you doing?”. From the startled look on her face it was obvious that she had been sleepwalking and had regressed to her previous life as a cat burglar. She immediately climbed back out again, the same way she had entered and I was left wandering whether I had imagined the entire episode. An alternative explanation might have something to do with the fact that her room was right next to mine and she just made an honest mistake, but I will leave it up to the readers to make up their own minds.

    By the time we were ready to start riding we got the message that Jorge was running late and was still 30 minutes away. Allan used the time to discover that his key would not open his bike lock and hoped that Jorge had an angle grinder in the van. We eventually managed to cut through the lock with a pair of pliers and a lot of elbow grease.

    At least the overnight storm had lowered the temperature to a much more comfortable level. This made our early cycling absolutely delightful. We even had the assistance of a lovely tail wind. The combination of lovely smooth bitumen, cool weather and helpful wind surely made for the best riding of our trip so far. We even managed to hold the peloton together. Well that last sentence is not perfectly correct. When we stopped for our first rest break we found that three riders were missing. Since we had been riding at a very sensible (modest) pace we could not understand how that could have happened. A phone call revealed that they had gotten rather muddled and had headed back in the same direction we had arrived from the previous afternoon. They had thus succeeded in riding about 3 km in the opposite direction to the rest of us. Old age really is a bummer sometimes.

    With the group all reunited we were able to make good, cohesive progress with everyone obviously enjoying the picturesque surroundings and the great road. For the first time since the ride started, it really could be accurately described as “flat”. The only problem was that we all knew that the ride was going to have a mountain top finish.

    The fortified village of Monsaraz can be clearly seen from many kilometres away and we could all see that it was going to be a serious challenge to get to the summit. The road kicked up to around 5% at the base of the climb and must have been over 10% on the tight corners. Riders sought ever lower gears as they slowly made their way up the mountain. It certainly was a help that the temperature was cool and the wind was still mostly on our backs. I am sure that our riders were justifiably all proud of their efforts when we finally reached the town entrance and were able to enjoy the panoramic views in all directions.

    The landscape was dominated by the massive Alqueva Dam Reservoir, the largest artificial lake in Europe. The white city inside the city walls was easily the prettiest town we had seen thus far and the lunch we enjoyed at an old olive mill was equally as impressive.

    The final attraction was the magnificent Hotel Rural Horta da Moura we had been booked in for the night. The only way I could describe this place is SUPERB. I think we could have happily stayed here for a week.
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  • Day28

    We Ride Like Dogs then Arrive Like Kings

    October 15, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    We had always been warned that today was going to be toughest day of the trip. The guide even went as far as to advise a couple of riders on our team that they should not attempt it. We now all know that he was not lying.

    Looking back over our 40 or so previous overseas adventures, there is usually one day that stands out in everyone's memories, far above all the others. On our memorable 2007 Great China Ride it was the successful conquering of the notorious Mud Mountain, in Africa it was our ill fated ride to Poopa Falls, on our 2015 France ride it was the ride from Orleans to Beaugency, on our 2009 trek in Nepal it was the day we got caught in a Himalayan blizzard on our way to Kohpra Ridge, and so on. In a strange quirk of the mind it is always the worst day that people look back on with the greatest enthusiasm and affection. Today will probably go down on the annals of the Ghostriders as "one of those days".

    Yesterday evening was memorable for an entirely different reason. Jorge drove us back up to the castle on the summit of Monsaraz so that we could eat in one of the local restaurants up there. It was a glorious night with a clear sky that gave a perfect view of the steadily waxing moon. Apparently this area has been made a designated dark sky region to assist with astronomical observations.

    The trip is obviously starting to take its toll. It is not easy to do front up day after day to quite demanding days of walking or riding. We have now been on the go for almost 4 continuous weeks and I am not surprised that some are starting to feel the pressure. Three people actually decided to stay in their rooms and miss the evening meal entirely. They really missed a treat - the meal was superb and the serving sizes were enormous. Perhaps the restaurant had been forewarned about the challenge we would be facing the next day.

    Although the following morning began with fine weather, the temperature was by far the coolest we had experienced since arriving in Europe. The sky was dark and there was the distinct smell of rain in the air. Riders donned their warm gear and tried their best to prepare for the predicted downpour. I guess it was just "good fortune" that served to make sure that the hardest cycling day also coincided with the worst weather as well.

    At least it started dry. For all of about the first 100 metres. And then the rain started. At first it was just a nuisance, but it just would not go away. Slowly the water started to find its way into shoes, jackets and helmets. It would have been nice to take a few stops to enjoy the scenic beauty, but we were just too darn cold and wet to really notice it.

    About halfway through the ride we managed to take shelter in a covered outdoor eating area outside a local restaurant. We waited for the rain to stop. Of course it didn't - it got worse, much worse. We had no alternative other than to simply mount the bikes and head into the downpour. And this is when the going started to get hard.

    Soon after leaving the restaurant we began the climb that we had been dreading. It went on for over 15 km at a pretty steady gradient. We might have actually enjoyed this opportunity to demonstrate our new levels of fitness if the rain had not degenerated into a freezing cloudburst. I could no longer see anything through my glasses, but when I took them off, I discovered that I couldn't see anything with my eyes either. The droplets were so heavy and cold that they stung my cheeks and forehead.

    In rain like this there is simply no place in your clothing that does not get completely soaked. I could feel my feet sloshing about in my waterlogged shoes and started to wonder how long it usually takes to develop trench foot. And still the climb went on, and on.

    After what seemed like an eternity we finally felt the surface of the road start to level out and , a little further on, we noticed Jorge parked by the side of the road. "I think we have reached the top", I announced to the peloton. At the time I believed it to be true, but we all discovered soon enough that we were probably only half way up. Each time we thought we must have crested, we turned a corner and were horrified to see the road just keep pointing to the skies.

    Of course every hill must eventually reach a crest at some time or later and somehow we all managed to stay alive long enough to reach the point where we could climb no further. This area of Portugal is renowned for its incredible marble and we could see a succession of huge marble quarries on both side of the roads.

    Our destination for the day was the town of Vila Vicosa. We found it had an impressive castle that we rode past on our way in, but it also had something much more impressive than the castle. The Pousada Convento de Vila Vicosa is a huge 16th century convent that was converted into an amazing hotel in 1997. I have stayed it some pretty incredible places over the years, but this place would certainly be one of the most memorable.

    The current hotel is owned by the Portuguese Royal Family and it still has a huge number of the features of the original convent. Some even claim that the place has the presence of the last Abbess, who is still sternly overseeing the convent. In 1652 Cecilia do Espirito Santo professed in the convent and she remained there till her death in 1723. Many of the frescoes that are still visible around the corridors and rooms are said to be her handiwork.

    Considering the majesty and history of this place, it was a shame that our thoughts were on much more mundane matters, such as how on earth we were going to dry our sodden clothing and shoes. Personally I don't think we have a hope of even getting them even half dry, even if we worked for hours with the hair dryers. It might be just as well we only have one cycling day remaining.
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  • Day17

    Gemütlich durch Portugals Mitte

    October 14, 2020 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 12 °C

    Wie schon geschrieben, geht es heute zum Einkaufen nochmal zurück nach Spanien, bevor wir uns ins Inland von Portugal begeben. Besser gesagt Cris ist einkaufen, ich arbeite derweil und Koa schläft tief und fest.
    Nachdem Cris mit einem Großeinkauf, als ob Portugal keine Lebensmittel hat, zurück war und wir alles verstaut hatten, schlengelten wir uns nun über die Landstraßen.
    Ich fahre in der Regel lieber Landstraße als Autobahn, weil man so von den Regionen mehr mitbekommt und der Lernaspekt so auch wieder höher ist, außerdem haben wir keinen Zeitdruck und müssen daher eh nicht die teuren Mautstraßen fahren.
    Heute haben wir unterwegs etwas über Aquädukte gelernt. Weißt du was das ist?
    Ein Aquädukt ist aus der Römerzeit, es sind sozusagen die antiken Wasserleitungen, nur viel imposanter als die heutigen, dieses Exemplar hier in Elvas ist 4Etagig und über 7km lang. So holten die Menschen früher das Wasser aus den Bergen in die Stadt. Sehr imposant anzusehen.

    Auch an unserem Übernachtungsstop gibt es etwas bekanntes aus Portugal. Die portugiesische Korkeiche bzw einen ganzen Wald davon. 50 Prozent der Kork Weltproduktion kommt aus Portugal und wir übernachten mitten drin.
    Ein sehr ruhiger Ort, außerhalb der Zivilisation und sehr guten Internetempfang, da sollte sich Deutschland mal eine Scheibe abschneiden.
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    Heidi Giessmann

    Danke wieder was dazu gelernt. Die Bäume sind schon impossant. Portugal kenne ich nur von ein bisschen Porto und Lissabon. Im Hinterland war ich noch gar nicht. Geniesst weiter das Leben jenseits von Stress und Corona!


    Freue mich, dass ihr unsere Reise begleitet. Das Hinterland hat auch wirklich eine Menge zu bieten. Wir werden uns bestimmt irgendwann noch mehr Zeit nehmen.

  • Day62

    Freier #Stellplatz

    December 2, 2019 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    Wir übernachten nochmal im Landesinneren an einem Stausee und morgen wollen wir dann weiter nach Spanien in Richtung Sevilla. Wenn der Roller weiter spinnt gibt es in Sevilla eine Kymco Werkstatt und die sollen sich dann das Problem anschauen. Aber vielleicht war es ja nur ein einmaliges Problem. Die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt.Read more

  • Day8

    Steinkreise Almendres

    July 29, 2019 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Heute fahren wir im Inland Richtung Norden. Da wir viel Strecke schaffen wollen haben wir nur einen Mittagsstop beim Cromlech von Almendres eingeplant. Die 95 Menhiren befinden sich in einem schönen Korkeichenwald. 🌳 Lotta fand es besonders schön zwischen den Steinen verstecken zu spielen. Auf dem einen Foto zählt sie übrigens mit Augen zu. ☺️Read more

You might also know this place by the following names:

Distrito de Évora, Distrito de Evora, Évora