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 ?Read more