Less Cheese

August - December 2015
A 107-day adventure by Roch
  • 31footprints
  • 5countries
  • 107days
  • 108photos
  • 0videos
  • 14.8kkilometers
  • 11.8kkilometers
  • Day 1

    Setting The Stage

    August 31, 2015 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Before we left for Southeast Asia last year, my employer granted me a six month leave of absence, on the understanding I would go back to my job upon my return to Ottawa. The Government of Canada was less understanding and Brenda was obliged to retire from the public service last Fall.

    After spending six fabulous months in Thailand, Brenda and I felt we'd had just about enough of the daily grind and I decided I would join her in retirement in the Fall of 2015.

    We'd begun planning our next winter getaway before we left Thailand and chose to spend six months cycling on our folding bikes through Portugal and Spain with only the clothing we can fit into our 40 liter backpacks. As we thought the bulk of our time would be in Spain, we began learning Spanish in earnest.

    Since the formation of the European Union, the majority of the countries in Europe form the 'Schengen Zone'. As a tourist, you cannot spend more than 90 days within the zone in any 180 day period, unless you have a Schengen Visa, which would grant you up to a year.

    In mid-August Brenda and I went to the Spanish embassy in Ottawa armed with our visa applications and all the documentation required to obtain a Schengen Visa. All was good until the clerk told us it takes three to four months to process the Schengen application at a cost of $750 per person. Since our plane for Porto leaves on September 26, we were suddenly forced to explore our options.

    We could go into the UK or Switzerland for three months, but that would be too darn cold. Gibraltor is out of our budget range. Morocco would work. It's a short ferry ride from the South of Spain and the weather is great, not to mention all the wonderful fresh fruits and dates we can get there.

    Of course, we'd have to re-think what we're carrying in our backpacks as Brenda will have to respect Muslim dress codes and we probably won't need as much warm clothing.

    Then Brenda began looking for cruises to Turkey or Cyprus as an alternative. That's when she came across a re-positioning cruise that sails from Malaga to the Canary Islands over 3 days and then leaves the Canary Islands on November 18th for an 8 day cruise to Salvador, Brazil, all for only $299.00 per person plus taxes! In March we get back onto the same ship for 13 days and get dropped off in Barcelona for about the same price. What more can you ask for? Perhaps another item crossed off the bucket list? Like Carnival in Rio, maybe?

    So, another re-think of our backpack contents, a scramble to learn as much Portuguese as possible and we're good to go. Our Brazilian visa applications are being processed and there were no surprises at their embassy.

    Now we're just counting down the days.
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  • Day 6

    Less Cheese

    September 5, 2015 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    ''Retirement: It's nice to get out of the rat race, but you have to learn to get along with less cheese.'' Gene Perret (one of Carol Burnett's writers)

    This quote actually has a dual meaning for me and Brenda. Figuratively, when we chose to focus on our retirement goals a couple of years ago, we started downsizing everything in our lives. I mean, if we're not going to be in Canada for 6 months of the year, how much living space do we really need? We moved into one of the units in our triplex in Ottawa and donated about 90% of our winter clothes. The rest of our clothing has been refined to be travel friendly and quick drying. We hung on to a couple of dressy outfits for special occasions, but I've been wearing travel clothes to work most of this year. In the end, so long as you really like the clothes you have and you're really comfortable in them, you don't need a whole lot.

    On the literal side, one of my hardest relinquishments as a vegan was cheese. From the softness of Buffalo mozzarella to the density of Grana Padano, from the squeaky mildness of curds to the biting strength of Roquefort, I loved them all. There are a lot of vegan cheeses and artisanal nut based cheese recipes out there that almost satisfy my longings in a pinch, but over all, I haven't suffered too much. And my body really thanks me for it.

    So as Brenda and I ride down the road of life together with our 40 liters of clothes (36 liters in Brenda's case) strapped to our bikes, we know we'll be living with less cheese, but we're certain it's all going to be very, very tasty.
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  • Day 22

    Blue Hairs & No Schedules

    September 21, 2015 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Well, it's been almost a week since I haven't had to drag my butt out of bed to go to the office. And what a week it's been.

    First, I was honored with a very nice retirement party at work on September 9 and was very touched by the well wishes I received and the thoughtfulness of my co-workers and management who took the time out of their busy days to see me ride off into the sunset, with a Fitbit, a 21st century version of the gold watch, strapped to my wrist.

    My last official day of work was September 15 and it was a very strange feeling walking out the door of 177 Colonnade that afternoon, knowing I'd likely only be returning as a visitor. To leave behind a 39 year career was both melancholic and celebratory. Of course I'll miss the action that comes with an interesting claim, the challenge of learning all about the industry involved and, of course, the camaraderie of the people in the claims industry. I won't miss the -40 degree trips to northern Quebec, the hundreds of emails or being on call. So, it was with somewhat mixed emotions that I left the office that day.

    Since then, we've done more celebrating with friends and family over the past week: brunch with Brenda's ex-coworkers on Sunday, lunch with Dena and Ed on Thursday, A great day with Vanessa and Xav on Saturday and dinner with Mike and Carole tonight. Tomorrow we'll be heading off to Montreal for a couple of days to cap off the celebrations.

    It's strange adapting to retirement. There are a lot of stereotypical situations that comedians often play on, but until now, I thought there was a lot of exaggeration in their skits.

    I had to go to the mall the other day, so I wandered over at around 10:00, only to find the place crawling with blue haired little old ladies and curmodgeonly old men. Wandering around, having breakfast, or just shooting the breeze over a cup of coffee, they were everywhere! Now, I know I'm 59 years old, but I don't feel THAT old. Holy cow, is this going to be my life now? Am I really part of that demographic? Where do you buy those pants that go up to the base of your rib cage?

    The funny thing is that I kinda get why they all hang out at the mall, like pre-teens on a Friday night. Being retired you have so much time on your hands, you can accomplish everything on your agenda and still be able to squeeze in an afternoon siesta. No more having to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to get in your 10km run. I can now laze around in bed as long as I want before strapping on my runners. If I'm feeling musical in the middle of the afternoon I just pick up my guitar and play. We rarely drive anywhere now because we have time to either walk or ride to our destination.

    These last couple of weeks are really a warm up for our winter travels where we'll still have virtually no agenda, a minimal wardrobe and a maximum of time to do what we want and live our lives to the fullest.

    I think I can get used to this.
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  • Day 22

    Inukshuks at Remic Rapids

    September 21, 2015 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    Riding along the Ottawa River bike path today I took the time to stop and photograph some of the hundreds of Inukshuks set up there. These free standing structures are newly erected each year by local artist, John Ceprano, and will all be tumbled as the winter brings rising water and ice flows.Read more

  • Day 27

    And Awaaay We Go!!!

    September 26, 2015 in Canada ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    It hardly seems real, but here we are, poised to embark on a seven month journey that will see us cross the Atlantic four times, visit at least six countries and rack up thousands of kilometers on our folding bikes. We've been preparing for the trip for months now, hunting down, buying and refining the perfect wardrobe (lightweight, quick drying and versatile), doing a lengthy test ride carrying all the gear we're bringing with us and planning the places we want to visit.

    Of course, to leave home for nearly seven months requires some organization and planning as well.
    Firstly, we can't just leave out home vacant so we decided to rent it out to a couple that's studying law at Ottawa U. Because it was easier to find tenants for the entire school year, we started the lease on September 1. Since then, we've been living in a furnished apartment in Ottawa's west end.

    Yesterday I put my car into storage for the winter. I had the oil changed, pumped up the tires, put in some fuel stabilizer, kissed it goodbye and tucked it under it's cover. Then it was down to checking the to do list, finalizing our packing and wrapping up our bikes in industrial strength Saran Wrap for the flight to Porto.

    This morning, as we were filling up our backpacks, Brenda asked me if I wanted her to take one of the spare inner tubes. Although our bikes are similar, Brenda's wheels need a smaller tube than mine, although I can use hers in a pinch. Well, I had my tube with me and had assumed that Brenda had hers. One should never assume. Here we are, 5 kms from the closest bike shop with no car and bicycles that have been wrapped up tighter than a sardine sandwich. It was already just about 11:00 AM and Vanessa was coming to take us to the airport at 2:00 PM. Brenda decided she could walk to the bike store and back in plenty of time, so off she went. Meanwhile, I made us some lunch, cleaned up the apartment and went for a walk myself.

    Brenda made it home with time to spare, armed with a replacement inner tube, which she immediately put into her backpack. We had lunch, put the finishing touches on our packing and then moved our stuff outside to wait for Vanessa to arrive. While we were standing there, it suddenly struck me that I had forgotten to decrease the air pressure in my tires. They were pumped up to 90 psi and, at 30,000 feet, they would definitely explode. First, I had to locate the valves through four layers of green Saran Wrap. Then I had to try to pierce a hole through it, large enough to get two of my fingers in, but not so large that it will get caught on things while in transit. How could I know that this damn plastic wrap is practically bullet proof? After much effort, I was finally able to break through the kevlar, unscrew the valve cover and use my glasses to partially deflate my tire. Yes, my glasses. The "L" shape of the part that goes over my ear was the perfect tool for the job. Not exactly McGyver, but pretty clever, I thought.

    Then I had to repeat the whole process for the other wheel.

    Vanessa arrived right on time, dropped us off at the airport, and after farewell hugs and kisses, we now sit here, waiting to embark on our journey.

    Our first leg takes us to Toronto where we have a three hour layover before we get on the plane that will take us to Porto. It's a red-eye that lands at 8:30 AM local time, so we may be a little tired when we get there. There may not be too many Port tastings tomorrow.

    It's OK, though. We'll still have 208 more days to do whatever we want.
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  • Day 30

    Porto, Day One

    September 29, 2015 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Despite leaving Ottawa nearly one hour late, we landed in Porto only ten minutes later than scheduled. After flying to Southeast Asia last year, the six hour flight to Europe went by in the blink of an eye. We flew over on Sata airlines in an Airbus 330 whose space had been configured for maximum passenger capacity and minimum passenger comfort. In other words, my knees were literally pushed against the seat back in front of me. Fortunately, the aircraft was about half empty and Brenda and I were able to grab seats in the bulkhead row, where I could almost stretch out. I nonetheless only managed about 30 minutes sleep with my mind working non-stop imagining the adventure before us.

    As we approached the Portuguese coast, we could see mountaintops peeking through the cloud cover. Thinking ahead to our bike ride down the coast to Lisbon, I began to fear we were going to be in for a very difficult trek. Then the plane descended into the clouds and almost immediately touched down onto a tarmac completely engulfed in a blanket of fog. So, it looks like once again, I made mountains out of molehills.

    We took the Metro into the city and stored our backpacks in a locker as we set off to explore the city at about 10:30 until we could check into our room at 3:00 PM. As we set out walking with our bikes, we realized two things: 1) nobody bikes in Porto and 2) with very uneven cobbled streets and extremely steep hills, nobody wants to bike in Porto. We found a spot to park our bikes and continued our exploration on foot.

    Porto is a beautiful city with blue and white tiled buildings, ancient churches and impressive architecture everywhere. I was not, however, prepared for how hilly it is. Not just hilly, but also really steeply hilly. While we were walking with our bikes, on the steepest descents, there were times we had to apply their brakes to help maintain control. And we're talking rolling hills, you know the kind, you go up, you go down, you go up and you go down, etc, etc... It'll be good training for the cycling that lies ahead of us.

    Unfortunately, arriving on Sunday meant that most of the businesses and restaurants were closed. Nonetheless, not long after we arrived, the fog lifted and we were welcomed with a sunny, but coolish day that allowed us to get our bearings and enjoy the sites without any crowds.

    At 3:00 we checked into our accommodations, a lovely studio apartment that Brenda found online for about 30 Euros/day. It's located between the Ribeira (the riverfront) and the City Center on an extremely steep street. Fortunately, when we ride out of Porto, we'll go down to the waterfront so we won't have to push our bikes and carry our packs back up.

    Once we were settled in, we had a €0.60 glass of wine in a popular little local watering hole and then went for a delicious mushroom, bean and coconut curry in a Mozambican restaurant. After dinner, we rolled downhill, back to our apartment, read for 5 minutes and passed out with the lights still on. I woke up 11 hours later, rested and ready to take on the new day.
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  • Day 31

    Are These Hills Getting Steeper?

    September 30, 2015 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    The city of Porto is divided by the Douro river with the Ribeira and City Center districts on the north bank and the Port houses in Vila Nova de Gaia on the south.

    On Monday we walked down to the waterfront and over the Luis 1 bridge to do our pilgrimage to the Port houses.Unlike most tourists, after crossing the bridge, we took the high road on the south bank, which brought us to the wineries located at the top of the hill. As a result we had only to roll down the slopes as we went from tasting to tasting.

    The first signpost we saw was for "Yeatman", a port neither of us had ever heard of before. It was an ultra-modern looking facility with two huge clay amphorae decorating the lawn at the entrance. It was only when we went through the front door did we wake up to the fact that we were standing in the lobby of a five star hotel, not a winery. D'oh! Not wanting to look too foolish, we walked in like we owned the place, admired the view from the balcony overlooking the river and the north shore and then sauntered off appearing unimpressed. I'm not sure they bought our act.

    Just a few meters down the hill from The Yeatman was Taylor's, which we knew for sure to be one of our desired destinations. We decided against doing their tour and tasting since their products are readily available at home. Onward down the hill we went and arrived at Offley who had a tour and tasting starting in 15 minutes. Our guide was a young Portuguese woman who spoke perfect English and French, and probably a couple of other languages. She gave a good informative description of the port making process, from vineyard to barrel, as well as an explanation of the differences between the various types of Port.

    The tasting at Offley consisted of an off dry white Port, a Tawny and a Ruby. The pours were generous and, with a 20% alcohol content, our already good moods improved considerably. To make matters worse, we then tried a fourth glass of Cachuca, an aged white Port that is only available at the winery or, of all places, at the SAQ in Quebec! It was quite delicious and I may pick up a bottle when we get home.

    We then set off to find a house whose products we hadn't tried before and stumbled on to Ramos & Pinto who had a very interesting selection of Port to taste. We decided to splurge on the €15.00 tasting that had an LBV, a 2007 Vintage, a 10 year old Tawny, a 20 year old Tawny and a 30 year old Tawny! They were successively more and more delicious and the 30 year old was liquid gold.

    Holding onto walls, railings and each other for support, we slowly descended the ever steepening hill to the south bank waterfront and headed back towards the bridge that would lead us back to our apartment.

    After a brief Port induced nap, we went out for dinner at a place that specialized in a local sandwich called a Franceschina. Mine had various vegan "meats" piled between two slices of bread and topped with a slice of melted cheese and a curry sauce. Just what the doctor ordered. Brenda was more reasonable and had a Seitan steak and salad.

    We may go back to the south bank for more tastings before we leave, but, if we do, we'll definitely pace ourselves a little better next time.
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  • Day 33

    From Porto to Aveiro

    October 2, 2015 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    On Thursday morning we packed our bags, unfolded our bikes and hit the road for our first real ride since arriving in Portugal. When we left our apartment we had to walk our bikes down the hill to the waterfront due to the steepness of the street we lived on. It was a cool 14°C at 8:00 AM with a gentle breeze coming in from the river. We headed out across the Luis l bridge and rode west along the waterfront below the Port houses on the south side of the river to the point where the Douro empties into the Atlantic. After about 10 kms, into our ride, we turned south and rode along the beautiful, scenic Portuguese coast for almost 40 kms to Esmoriz where the bike path ended and we had to turn inland for a while. The route became a little more challenging at that point, with a few 4% to 8% hills that were, fortunately, not terribly long. After all, this was our first ride and we didn't want to be tackling anything too mountainous at this stage. At Ovar, we again turned west toward the coast and rode along the inner portion of the peninsula that runs to Sao Jacinto, where we hopped on the ferry that brought us back to the mainland and our final destination of Aveiro.

    Including the minor detours (getting lost) and the lunch and nature breaks, we traveled 86.5 kms in a leisurely 5:22 at an average speed of 16.1 kmh.


    It was a beautiful day for a first ride and now, after a well deserved night's rest, we're ready to explore Portugal's answer to Venice; Aveiro.
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  • Day 33

    A Day In The Life

    October 2, 2015 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Woke up,
    Got outta bed,
    Dragged a razor across my head.

    Apologies to John and Paul.

    Despite going to bed quite late last night, Brenda and I woke up fairly early and lazed around in our room until about 10:00, talking about our trip so far and plotting our path through the rest of Portugal.

    The public market is always at the top of our places to see in any new city we visit, so, after we groomed and I shined up the dome, that's exactly where we headed. We were a little disappointed with the market as the usual hustle and bustle we've come to expect was sorely lacking. Of course, that may have been because our lazy asses didn't arrive there until after noon and half the stalls were already closed. You snooze, you lose. We did, however manage to buy almost 700 grams of beautiful, perfectly ripe strawberries that we decided would be our lunch's dessert.

    We had a delicious lunch at Ki Macrobiotica and then found ourselves a sun drenched bench in a wide open plaza where we sat and devoured our bounty of strawberries.

    With our bellies full and happy, we spent the rest of the afternoon simply wandering the narrow cobbled streets of Aveiro, doing a little window shopping and taking in the sights. One of the main shopping drags had a fishing net hung over the street with all sort of macrame denizen of the deep hanging from it. Very Portuguese.

    In our travels we had picked up a notice of an a Capella concert at the Museu de Aveiro that was taking place tonight. Despite being a little tired, we decided we should do something a little cultural, and it was free, so we headed off to the museum for the 9:30 concert. As it turns out, the museum is housed in what was once a convent, complete with a church, known as Igreja de Jesus. I've been to Notre Dame in Paris, Westminster in London and even St-Paul's at the Vatican and none of them are anywhere near as ornate as this little chapel. OK, it was a little over the top for my taste, but I had to admire the workmanship.

    Now for the concert. Normally when I think a Capella, the Nylons, Manhattan Transfer and Girl From New York City come to mind. Oooh ah, oooh ah, come on kitty, talkin' 'bout the girl from New York City. Tonight, however, was a whole other ball game with a set list consisting of religious hymn's greatest hits. I gotta admit, while reading the program as we were sitting there waiting for the singing to start, I was fearful I'd be asking Brenda to leave after a couple of numbers. But as soon as I heard the lush harmonies and beautiful voices emanating from these eight singers, I was in for the long haul. In the end, when the sixty minute concert was over, I was hoping there would be an encore. Alas, the singers came out for a curtain call, but no more notes were sounded.

    We walked back to our room from the church and turned in for the night.

    And that's pretty much a day in my life these days.

    Pretty sweet, eh?
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  • Day 34

    Aveiro to Coimbra

    October 3, 2015 in Portugal ⋅ 🌙 19 °C

    Saturday morning we once again packed up our things, unfolded our bikes and hit the road at around 9:00 towards our next destination, Coimbra (pronounced Kuweem-bray).

    As was the case on Thursday, the temperature was a cool 14ºC, but today the skies were overcast as we started the ride. Since the only biking top I brought with me is sleeveless, I have to admit, I found it to be a little chilly.

    Once we managed to find our way out of the city, we settled into a nice slow rhythm along route N-335 and I quickly forgot about the chill in the air.

    When we arrived in Porto, one of the first things I did was to re-inflate our bikes' tires using my little hand pump. According to the manufacturer, you're supposed to be able to get up to 125 psi out of it and, since our tires only need a maximum of 90 psi, I figured we were good to go. I don't know, maybe I need to work out more, but there's no way I could get the pressure up higher than about 70 psi. Traveling distance, up steep hills carrying 20 lbs of weight on the rack with spongy tires makes for an unhappy Brenda, so we stopped at a gas station to top things up. After a couple of minutes of my futile attempts at trying to figure out how to use the pump, the station attendant, a very sweet Portuguese woman who was perfectly fluent in French, came out and not only explained how the pump worked, she filled up all four of our tires! And the kicker was that unlike in Canada, the gas stations here don't charge you for air. She wished us bon voyage and bom dia and went back to her routine.

    After about 25 kms on N-335, Google maps told me to take a left, off the main road.

    Now, the problem with Google Maps here in Portugal is that the biking route option is unavailable. I could choose the vehicle route, but that typically takes you along highways that are off limits to cyclists. The other option, the one I chose, is the pedestrian route that sometimes has us going the wrong way down one-way streets or around the wrong side of a roundabout.

    Today, after about 5 kms of riding southeasterly away from N-335, Google maps told me to turn onto a narrow dirt road that appeared to be in about as good condition as a Montreal street in late March. Hmmmm, maybe we'll just keep going.

    After trying to lure me onto similar dirt paths four more times, Miss Google finally brought me to N-224 and then N-111 that brought us right in to Coimbra. Our little detour cost us only about 5 additional kilometers, but it was well worth it.

    Overall, the route was fairly flat, but there were a few decent hills that made us work hard to climb up, and were a real treat going down. The scenery was beautiful, particularly when we were off the main roads. The rolling hills were covered with grapevines, orange and lemon groves and olive orchards.

    They're calling for some wet weather over the next few days so we're planning to wait for the rain to stop before we head out to our next destination.

    Distance traveled today: 63.5 kms.
    Moving time: 3:57
    Average Speed: 16.0 kms
    Elevation Gain: 389m
    Total distance biked so far: 150 kms

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