Saturday, 20 September 2014

Cycling the Portuguese Camino



Our Portuguese Camino

By Bicycle

 Plus Gluten-Free Travel Notes

14 April – 10 May 2014

In 2013 we decided to do a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, also known as the Way of St. James. We researched the numerous routes and decided to take the path less traveled – the Camino Portuguese from Lisbon to Santiago, via Porto. This route is a 615 kilometer journey, according to John Brierley’s guide book, “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Portugués”. Because we are keen cyclists, we decided to make our pilgrimage on bicycles and keep as close to Brierley’s guide book as possible, even though it is intended for walkers (you may want to refer to this guide book when you read through our daily reports). Prior to leaving Brisbane we learned a bit of Portuguese and we found that we had enough of the language to be understood.  The research we did also confirmed that finding gluten-free products for Heather would provide a challenge, particularly when we would be in the less populated areas (which was most of the journey until Porto). This did prove to be the case, so you will find numerous references to gluten-free eating throughout this blog. At the end of this blog we talk a bit more about gluten-free eating and what we took with us in terms of clothing and other accessories.
A friend saw us off at Brisbane airport on the 8th of April 2014, with Gerry carrying his 11 kilogram backpack and Heather her 9.3 kilogram backpack. Both packs would have been lighter had we not take an ipad, a small camera and two mobile phones, plus all their chargers and plug converters! Still, this had to do us for our one month pilgrimage and our four month Europe and England adventure after the pilgrimage. We flew with Emirates who we found to be a good airline, arriving in Lisbon (via Dubia) on the 10th April, after a long 25 hour flight. Too bad nothing could be done about the length of the flight. We were both exhausted upon arrival and happy that we had a few days to recover before beginning our pilgrimage.
To really experience what it would be like to live in another country we decided stay as much as possible in local residential areas. Therefore we rented an apartment, which we found through the AirBnB website, in the old Alfama district of Lisbon, which turned out to be easy to get to via the metro from the airport. The unit was quaint and very compact, which we discovered during our time in Portugal, was normal of homes there. The apartment was accessed via a small pedestrian alleyway which contained residential apartments, small grocery stores, fruit/vegetable stores and bars. Lots of concrete; very little greenery. We began to realise how spoiled we are in Australia, having large living spaces, lawns and gardens. The unit met our need to stay in among the people who work and live in Lisbon, and was in a perfect location for exploring the city and the old district of Lisbon. Lisbon is a great city for exploring and general sightseeing and there are lots of great coffee places to just stop and watch the people. If you want to go to the tourist sites (which are worth visiting), it is best to do so during the weekdays, as they were extremely busy during the weekend.

View from window
Lisbon apartment alleyway

Lisbon Tram

We spent a few days recovering from jet lag and enjoying the sights of Lisbon. We highly recommend taking a guided walking tour of the city. Not only did it provide us with a great introduction to the history of the city, but we received lots of helpful tips of where to eat and what to see that wouldn’t cost a lot. For example, the guide recommended never spending more than 10€ for a meal that should include soup, main course, bread, something to drink (eg wine/beer) and a coffee. Following her advice, we became more discerning and soon found a great place by the Se Cathedral whose luncheon meal was 6€ (converted to around $9 AUD). Excellent value.

The Camino
14 April 2014: 40k; Lisbon to Villa  Franka
On the 14th April we picked up our gear from BikeIberia in Lisbon; two Giant mountain bicycles, back panniers, handle bar bags, a lock (weighing about 2 kilograms), spare tubes, a repair kit, a set of bicycle tools, a bicycle pump and oil. Everything we needed to keep us on the road. These bicycles were perfect for the inland trail as described in Brierley’s guide book.  We arranged with BikeIberia to transfer our backpacks to our hotel in Santiago from Lisbon, so we didn’t have to worry about that ourselves. Great service!

I think I can handle this

OK I can ride this

BikeIberia is a compact shop with not much room to move around inside, so went to a small park around the corner of the shop to pack our panniers. BikeIberia did offer us the option of picking up the panniers the night before to pack them in our unit, but we thought it would be easier to pack there. We then transferred almost everything we had in our backpacks into the panniers [see the end of this document for what gear we took]. This worked out very well, as throughout the journey everything we had taken with us we used, and we did not miss what we had sent on. This may have been different had we had rainy cold weather, but the sun gods shined down on us for most of our journey. Before setting out we tried out the bikes, fully loaded, and were on our way.
The Trail
The day was cloudy and overcast when we set out on our pilgrimage. Leaving BikeIberia we followed a bicycle track from the city, taking us through many industrial areas. Initially we were concerned that we would have to cycle in the Lisbon traffic to get out of the city. However, much to our delight the bicycle track guided us all the way out of the city with no need to cycle on a road, keeping it very safe. We felt sorry for the pilgrims who would be walking out of Lisbon as most of the trail was on pavement which would have been very unpleasant to walk on. Enroute we met up with a father and son who were on road bicycles; they were cycling on the main roads and expected to arrive in Santiago in a couple of weeks. That would be very do-able if you don’t mind dealing with the noise and the traffic on the roads.

The bicycle track went past the Vasco da Gama Park, which is part of the Expo ’98 site. Shortly after the park the track changed into a dirt trail following alongside a river, passing some ruins. The first part of this trail was no wider than the mountain bicycle tires. While it was only a little muddy it was very difficult to navigate on our bicycles. Both of us had a fall. Gerry down towards the river, only to be saved by the brambles; Heather towards the field of mud. Gerry spent the next few days extracting brambles from his body and clothes. However the brambles did save him from falling into the river. Thank goodness for the overgrowth.
Further on we encountered a broken irrigation gate. The irrigation gate itself was missing, leaving only the side posts. This meant we had to somehow make our way over the gap without falling into the river. The gap was too wide to bicycle over or to carry the bicycles over fully loaded. So we unloaded our bicycles and passed the panniers and bicycles over one at a time. Thank goodness there were two of us for if you were on your own this would have been extremely difficult. But teamwork got us safely through! We then reloaded our bicycles and were on our way.

Broken sluice gate
OK the first day is a challenge
Shortly after this the trail became very boggy. Mud up to our ankles. Gerry searched for a way around the mud but the whole field surrounding the trail was boggy. Accepting that our sneakers would be soaked and our feet would receive a good mud cleanse we forged onwards. After awhile the trail opened up into a lovely area surrounded by yellow flowers. Fortunately for us we had little to no rain the few days before we left; had there been rain this field would have been impossible to get through. The existing mud and bogginess was simply due to the terrain, being so near the river. We were pleased that on this section, and for the next couple of days, the yellow arrow signage marking the trail was excellent. We do recommend that if it had been raining for a few days before you began your journey, and if you are on bicycles, to jump onto the N-10 at Sacavem (shown in the guide book) which was a road with a nice wide shoulder.
We continued to follow the guide book until we intersected with the N-10 leading us to Povoa de Santa Iria and a route leading onto rough vegetation. Rather than try to make our way through that we decided to jump onto the N-10. We found the drivers wonderful to cyclists, giving us plenty of space by moving over away from us and slowing down. We noticed that they did not do the same for walkers.
We arrived at Alverca do Ribatejo and Alverca Railway station, where we had to cross the rail tracks. The guide book recommends crossing the rail tracks using the stairs. Fortunately there was a lift, enabling us to take our loaded bicycles across the rail tracks as it would have been very difficult carrying them up the stairs without unloading them first. The lift is not mentioned in the guide book, and we had to keep reminding ourselves that the guide book was written for walkers and NOT cyclists and we needed to make adjustments as required. Once we crossed the rail tracks we continued on our way, but after a short while we had a sense we were not going in the right direction. So, we turned around and found that we had missed seeing an arrow pointing the way. If you were walking this wouldn’t have been a problem as the arrows are easier to see, except for those odd ones covered in overgrowth or hidden behind parked cars. In general good signage kept us going and kept us confident that we were moving in the right direction. We then followed the trails in the guide book to our destination of Vilafranca de Xira. This trail took us along the river front via a great bicycle track all the way.
Along the waterfront

Overall, this was a hard ride because the off road parts were rough and rugged. It was also our really first experience and introduction to mountain bicycle riding with loaded panniers. Perhaps if we were better experienced in riding mountain bicycles it would have been easier. All in all, though it was fun, although tiring and bruising.
The Recovery (food and accommodation)
We stayed at Residential Flora, a nice friendly little hotel where pilgrims often stay. Our evening meal was at a local restaurant and was delicious.

15 April 2014: 50k; Villa Franka to Santarem
The Trail
Left at 9am following the trail in the guide book, which led us back along the riverside bicycle track and then onto a very busy road with lots of traffic. This road required a lot of care and attention when crossing. It was very scary crossing that road, so do pay attention here!

Once past the Lidl store we continued along the rail line and then a drainage channel. This was a pleasant ride all the way to Vila Nova da Rainha where we stopped for a coffee. The trail then took us onto the busy N-3, all the way to Azambuja.  Fortunately there is a nice wide shoulder as there was lots of traffic.  Again, the drivers were very courteous to cyclists; and other than the noise, it was a good run.
We decided to stop at Azambuja Central for lunch. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any cafe to eat at so found a park and made our own lunch of rice rounds, peanut butter, cheese and an orange.  Leaving Azambuja again required crossing railway tracks. Fortunately there was a wheelchair ramp that was great for us with our bicycles, as again the metal stairs would have been a real challenge.
Shortly after Azambuja the trail linked to a side road then a country road by a creek. Riding was pleasant.  Weather perfect.  We quickly reached Valada, stopping for another coffee, then onto Porto de Muge where the country road ended and we found ourselves on a ‘sandy’ road. Because it had been dry for the previous few days the sand was like a hard packed gravel road.  Great for riding.  However, had it been wet it would have been hard going as in some places the sand was quite deep. After a lovely 9 kilometer ride we rejoined a country road at Viaducto and then straight UP to Santarem. And up it was! We initially thought we could ride our bicycles up the hill and we did start off riding. But too soon we found ourselves alongside our bicycles, pushing them up the hill! Steep the guide book says. And steep it was!
On today’s section of the trail we met a couple from Ireland, our first walking pilgrims. Later in the day we met four more pilgrims enroute to Santarem. This gave us a total of six walkers and two road cyclists doing the pilgrimage thus far.
The Recovery (food and accommodation)
The challenge when we arrived at the top of the hill was to find Santarem Hostel as there were no directions for it. After asking people on the street, we were able to locate it. It was worth the search as, not only did they look after our bicycles, the hosts were wonderful and the room was great. Our bicycles were brought up the stairs and locked in the courtyard. What a wonderful hostel.

Santarem Hostel, relief after the big climb!

Santarem Hostel
We had our own room (the orange room) and a nice hot shower. For supper we made ourselves a very nice pasta meal. As the sun was shining we decided to do our laundry, which we did in the large laundry basin by hand. Breakfast was included in the price, and Gerry enjoyed the homemade preserves! We would recommend this hostel to anyone passing through Santarem. 
16 April 2014: 42.1k: Santarem to Atalaia
The Trail
Left around 9am today. Our route out of Santarem was via the Gate of the Sun (Portas do Sol), which is in a garden and has a wonderful viewing platform on a former Moorish citadel. The view to the river and the hills beyond would have been great on a sunny day. However the overcast and cloudy conditions of the morning gave it an ominous feeling, and provided us with a wonderful photo. We then passed through the Gates of St James and down a very steep decline. This trail was clearly meant for walkers. It was impossible to cycle down, even proving to be challenging walking down with loaded bicycles. Therefore we made our way very slowly.
The view from Portas do Sol
Portas do Sol
The trail down from the Gates of St James

Given the wet conditions, we decided to follow the country road rather than the trail as per the guide book, thus avoiding the mud. This turned out to be a great decision as we had a delightful journey passing through many small villages and hamlets with roadside shrines scattered all along the way. The road ran parallel to the trail as shown in the guide book, occasionally veering off to go through a small town.
Our initial destination was Sao Caetano, as the small hostel there came highly recommended by a fellow pilgrim we met in Lisbon. However, when we arrived it was full (we did not book ahead!) so we bicycled onto Atalaia, following the arrows all the way. It was a nice day.
The Recovery (food and accommodation)
Stayed at Casa Patricia, a very nice manor house. Note that the phone number in the guide book is wrong; it is 249 710 581. Had a meal at a restaurant down the road. Monkfish with rice.  A very huge meal with the plates of food covering the whole table! Heather asked for one glass of wine and got a 375ml bottle; Gerry asked for a beer and got a large insulated mug (really a small jug). Neither of us complained!
Casa Patrica

Gerry's beer

17-22 April 2014: 18.8k; Atalaia to Tomar (Easter weekend)
The Trail
Left around 9am to the waves of the manor house owners. Soon after leaving the trail went onto a track that looked pretty rough. So, rather than face the mud we decided to join up with the N-110, which is a smaller ‘main’ road, with a fairly wide shoulder. We stayed on this road, joining up again with the marked trail at Guerreira. It was a pleasant ride on the road, with numerous ups and downs but nothing like what we were expecting (maybe we were fitter than we thought). It was a short day and an easy ride.
The Recovery (food and accommodation)
We stayed at a Tomar Holiday House, located just one street off the trail in the guide book. This was a great location in the centre of everything. We walked everywhere and there was a supermarket close by. We decided to stay four nights as this was the Easter weekend and we assumed everything would be closed over Easter. Well, things were generally shut until noon and then it was business as usual. We did find that four nights was too long; we decided a maximum of three and ideally two nights in any one place would be best.

Our holiday house

Main street Tomar

As we arrived early we decided to go to the Templar castle in the afternoon. The Castle is in amazing condition. We walked around for hours as there was so much to see! Incredible history and views of the town. Well worth a visit.

Templar Castle

Courtyard in the castle

Entrance to the castle
18 April – Market Day in Tomar turned out to be a cold day and we ended up wearing almost all the clothes we had carried. Anything and everything is sold at the market. Live if you want; dead otherwise. We treated ourselves to some local cheese, lovely fruit and vegetables, and lots of olives. We decided to revisit the Castle after lunch, only to find it closed for the Easter holiday.
Cheese stall at markets, cold day

Tomar markets
 That evening we went for a walk to see the Castle lit up at night. By chance we stumbled upon crowds of people heading to the Cathedral. So, we joined them. It turns out that on Good Friday the statue of Mary and the statue of Jesus (laid out in a coffin) are taken from the Cathedral to another Church via a route through the town. The procession was led by six teenagers carrying a huge wooden cross and numerous other church-goers carrying various lights and holy pictures. The procession was followed by hundreds of people, including a brass band which played a funeral march. We walked for over an hour through the town and past apartments with candles burning on the balconies and often with drapes hanging from the windows. This was a testimony of the faith of the townspeople and was a very moving experience.
Good Friday Procession

Good Friday Procession

21 April - Fatima.
We explored the local sights in Tomar during the weekend and on Easter Monday we caught the bus to Fatima. The scale of the place is amazing. The Cathedral was built in the mid 1920s/30s and opposite is a new church which was built in the 1970s. The two (Cathedral and new church) provided an amazing contrast of architecture styles. The Cathedral was built to mimic the old Roman style with great statues and pillars, while the new church was built with straight lines. The Cathedral had the Stations of the Cross depicted in tiles which was absolutely amazing. The new church was a great place to seek refuge as Gregorian chants were continuously playing. A perfect place to sit, relax and gather your thoughts.
Main square

Cathedral at Fatima

The new basilica

The Chapel of Apparitions is in the large square, and continuous mass is held there. This Chapel is believed to be where the first sighting of the Virgin Mary occurred in Fatima. Here people were crawling on their knees in prayers, often crawling their way right around the Chapel itself. Very moving. An oak tree stands by the Chapel and is currently surrounded by a gate. The oak tree represents the original oak tree that disappeared due to pilgrims and locals taking pieces of the tree as a token of their visit.
 Fatima is well worth a visit, whether you are a believer or not. For us it brought mixed emotions. Admiration for the people who still have so much faith; people from all over the world who seek the spiritual and emotional comfort this place can offer them. In contrast, we were also disturbed by the gross commercialism of the place.


22 April 2014: 48.8k+; Tomar to Ansiao

The Trail
Left Tomar around 9am, after a night of rain. Because of the muddiness of the trail, we decided not to follow the off road track from Tomar as shown in the guide book, but to cycle via the N-10. This was a very busy road. Lots of traffic. Lots of climbing.  At Casais we rejoined the trail, which was a small country road. HILLS. HILLS. And more hills today. Lots of pushing the bicycles up hill and walking them while holding them back on the way down. Steep ups. Steep downs. 10%+ gradients. Spent most of the day walking our bicycles rather than riding.


Heathers opinion of the hills today
Arrived at Chao das Eiras still following the route, with heavy climbing. The only saving grace was there was very little traffic on these small country roads. The climbing never seemed to end. We thought we had seen the worst of the climbs until we encountered the road to Quinta do Tojal. A very hard climb! We continued to follow the guide book, keeping on the route until Casa Torre where we jumped onto a small country road rather than take the muddy trail off-road. We cycled this road all the way to Alvaiazere, where much to our dismay we met with another very hard climb. 
Stopped in Alvaiazere for lunch at a small park that had nice views over the hills and a nice public toilet. Usually we used the toilets in the cafes/bars, giving us another reason to stop for a coffee, so this was a nice alternative and one we rarely encountered. We found that parks were a rare commodity in Portugal, so we really enjoyed this one; usually all we encountered were town squares with one or two trees. From here we rejoined the trail, which was a country road heading towards Gramatinha. This provided us with the opportunity to see if our legs could do another climb, a climb to 470 metres from 210 metres within 5 kilometers. Climb they could, but not with us sitting on the bicycles. Again we had to push the bicycles as we could not ride this steep incline. 
The arrows marking the trail then wanted to take us off-road onto a very muddy trail and we knew we wouldn’t have made it through on the bicycles. So, we decided to stay on the road, as the guide book showed one small country road that should intersect with the trail at Venda, which was a short distance away. Don’t believe it. There were countless small roads going everywhere. Needless to say, we got lost. Hopelessly lost and ended up going in circles. Circles with hills.
In Portugal the roads have developed over hundreds of years, connecting  villages, hamlets and towns, most NOT shown on any map! The road we ended up taking was great!  Straight down-hill. We should have known this was too good to be true as it turned out we were going down-hill in the wrong direction! When we realised this we were very lucky to have a rare motorist passing by who we stopped to get directions. We then made our way to the N348 and after many cobblestone roads to Ansiao. 
Amazing we are still smiling!
The Recovery (food and accommodation)
At Ansiao we tried to book in at the ‘Adega Tipica’ a place recommended in the guide book, but we had a very cool reception. We felt they didn’t care to help us or to show us where we could safely store our bicycles. We waited and waited for someone to direct us, but no one came. So we jumped back on our bicycles and made our way to ‘Solar de Rainha’, which is just outside town and also listed in the guide book. This turned out to be very nice accommodation with a huge, but cool, bedroom! A place we would highly recommend anyone to stay.
Solar de Rainha, great spot
We had a snack, hot shower and a nap while waiting for the hotel restaurant opened at 8:30pm. We were hungry and ready to eat between 5pm and 6pm after a day’s ride. It was hard for us to get use to waiting until after 8pm to eat. But, that is the way the locals did it and as we were traveling through small country towns we had to adapt. We did learn to make sure we always had some snacks with us to tide us over until we could have a good meal.
Evening meal at Solar de Rainha, huge & cheap.
The jug is full of red wine, we asked for a glass!

23-24 April 2014; 45.5k;  Ansiao to Coimbra
The Trail
Left around 9:30am. As it rained all night the off-road trails were very muddy and impassable by bicycle. Thus, we decided to stay on the small country roads as much as possible, hoping that our guide book map showed all the roads. However, it doesn’t. Again, there were multiple roads crisscrossing everywhere so it was very easy to get lost. And GET LOST WE DID. It took us almost 4 hours to go 20 kilometers!  We passed lots of shrines on the roadsides.  Lots of dogs.  Fortunately most of the dogs were tied up, and while they were not happy about that as they could only bark at us and not give chase, we were very pleased.
Roadside shrine
The roads we took had us entering the many small towns from an alternative route, rather than the main entrance. We noticed that often the buildings from these ends of town were in disrepair, and surprisingly people were still living in them. When we would cross over into the “newer” part of town we found a stark contrast between the old and the new areas. Even so, it was a good to see the old part of the towns and the routes through these towns were very picturesque.
Right after Freixo we joined the N-348 and cycled until the exit to the N347-1 just past Junqueira. We followed the N347-1 all the way to Rabacal, again avoiding the muddy off-road trail.
We had lunch at a small cafe in Rabacal, then set off again. Ensuring a gluten-free meal at these small towns was a challenge as the locals did not understand what is meant by gluten-free even when we provided them with the Portuguese-language card that explained it. This was very much the same anyplace we went unless we spoke with the people in the restaurants who worked directly with food, others do not understand the concept. This just meant that, for lunch, Heather had to rely on what she was carrying. 
We got very lost leaving Rabacal, finally connecting with the yellow arrows marking the trail. We kept to the trail whenever it followed a small country road (grey road in the guide book), and we had a nice ride all the way to Poco. At Poco the trail led to a remote dirt track, but because this dirt track was so muddy we needed to keep on the small country road. Once again this proved more difficult than we expected. We tried to find the small road shown in the guide book but couldn’t find it, ending up on the IC3, which turned into the IC2. These were very busy roads and quite scary as the shoulders were very small, when they existed! Finally found a side road that we escaped to and amazingly found ourselves back on the trail, whoopee!
Street sign with a yellow arrow marker pointing to Santiago
Had coffee at Cafe Araujo in the village of Cruz de Mourocos where a group of Italian walkers appeared, all wearing yellow scarves. They were surprised to find out we were from Australia. In fact, most people on the trail from Lisbon to Porto were surprised to meet Australians. Leaving the café the road was too steep to ride DOWN so again we had to walk our bicycles, holding onto the breaks so the bicycles wouldn’t take off.  Later enroute we passed over the new motorway, which was made by slicing an old Roman aqueduct in half! Absolutely shocking and amazing! This road took us into Santa Clara, a very busy town with narrow streets, and then into Coimbra. The route was well marked, with very visible yellow arrows leading us by a church overlooking the river and the town. We stopped at the church for the spectacular view over the town prior to entering Coimbra.

View over Coimbra
The Recovery (food and accommodation)
Stayed at Hotel Jardin, which faces the river. We were able to put our bicycles in a locked up alleyway overnight. The hotel was two blocks from the tourist centre and the old town; cost 40€ a night. No breakfast included, but plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby. A very nice and friendly place to stay.
Hotel Jardin, great spot
25-26 April 2014; 47.8k; Coimbra to Agueda
The Trail
Left at 9:30am. Today is Liberation Day, when ‘democracy’ was restored in Portugal by the army.  It was a perfect day to cycle as, being a holiday, there was very little traffic on the roads. We kept to the trail and followed the yellow arrows all day. Today was our best day of riding. Either we were getting fitter or the trail was not as difficult! Mind you, there were a few short climbs, just so we didn’t get too complacent. We had a bit of everything today cobblestones, off-trail tracks, small country roads, small villages, a real slice of countryside Portugal. It was a very good trip for us as cyclists and we fully enjoyed the day. Agueda is a pretty little town that is entered via a bridge that crosses the river which is lined by trees. In summer they have a festival during which umbrellas are hung upside down, making a lovely show with the sun shining through them and throwing colours on the cobblestones. Unfortunately we were too early in the year to see that.
Resting by a roadside fountain, note the tile pictures

A wet trail

Forestry trail

Road through old village

The Recovery (food and accommodation)
We wanted to stay at Albergue Casa Azul which is mentioned in the guide book as we wanted to be able to cook our own meals (gluten-free). However, after searching for it, alone and with the help of some local people, we found its location. It looked like a burned out building that hadn’t been in operation for years. We were already tired after riding all day and we were getting very cold. We then followed the signs and cycled to ‘Residential Celeste’, which is on the trail and easy to find. Residential Celeste is a pilgrim-friendly alburgue/hotel combination, breakfast included.
Residential Cleleste, nice place to stay on the trail

The alburgue looked very nice. We stayed at the hotel part as we wanted our own bathroom, but could easily have stayed at the alburgue. This was the first time on the trail that there were other pilgrims (including two Australians) also staying at the same accommodation. There was no restaurant here, but a local restaurant delivered free of charge. We decided to order and eat in at the dining room, enabling us to share stories with the other pilgrims. 
The next day we woke to heavy rain. While we initially planned to stay only one night we decided to stay another day rather than cycle in the rain.  This turned out to be the right decision as the next day we woke up to bright sunshine.
27 April 45.5k; Agueda to Sao Joao De Madeira
The Trail
Left at 9am and rejoined the route in the guide book which was right outside Residential Celeste. We followed the yellow arrows and the guide book all day. After a short time on the road the trail goes onto a dirt trail with three possible ways to go and no clear markings as to which way to follow. We made a guess, taking the left-most trail. Fortunately we guessed correctly and upon exiting the trail via a medieval Roman bridge we entered a small town. The town was celebrating mass in the town grounds. Church music was broadcast along the main road through speakers lining the street. It felt very surreal. We stopped to listen and take in the atmosphere for awhile and then continued our journey. 
Pushing bike up the trail, old roman road
Much of the trail would have been a challenge on bicycles as it had it been raining; unsafe and impassable. We avoided these due to knee-high mud and took a gamble on a small country road, knowing that we may never see the arrows again and probably get lost. Much to our surprise we eventually met up with the arrows and continued our guided journey again. This was another wonderful day of bicycling through many small towns, some with high walls on either side of us; others through small winding streets. We also continued to be challenged with hills of 10 to 15% gradients, too steep to cycle up or DOWN! 

Signs along the way

Yes it had been raining !
Around 2:30pm we thought we had arrived at our night’s destination, but it turned out we had arrived at Oliveira de Azemeis, and we still had 10 kilometers to go to Sao Joao da Madeira. Yikes. While 10 kilometers doesn’t sound like much, when you factor in steep hills, ups and downs, rough cobble-stoned curving streets and our expectations of being ready to lay our heads on our pillows after a nice hot shower, it was a fair way. Going our fastest and assuming the best road conditions, we estimated we had about one more hour of cycling. We were tired, but forged ahead. One and a half hours later, at 4pm, we finally arrived at our destination. As anywhere, distance cannot be gauged simply by kilometers on the map. The many obstacles and challenges presented to us each day gave us a new appreciation of traveling on the road less traveled. 
The Recovery (food and accommodation)
Imagine being tired and hungry and cycling into a town prepared to search for your accommodation (not so good). Then imagine cycling into town and right there, right in front of you (a little over to the left) you see your accommodation! Imagine the joy. Imagine the relief. Whooppee.
Residencial Solar Sao Joao
Our room overlooks the square


We had arrived at ‘Residencial Solar Sao Joao’, our destination for the night, which faced the town square as you entered the town and is right on the trail. A most welcoming sight after a day of cycling. No wandering the streets looking for a place to lay our head.  We were tuckered out and had very little reserves to seek out our accommodation. It was heaven sent. The bicycles were safely locked up in their own place around the corner of the building. The room was spectacular. Wrought iron bed, matching bedstand, great ensuite. If that wasn’t enough, our room had a balcony overlooking the main square. 35€ including breakfast.  Yippee ! 
We went to the square to celebrate and for 2.60€ we had two coffees and Gerry had a Portuguese custard tart. For supper that night, the hotel owner’s brother who could speak a bit English directed us to a local restaurant to eat. After a recovery nap, we wandered down to the restaurant which opened at 8:30pm and had a good meal.
28 April – 1 May  2014; 45.5k (rather than the 30k due to getting lost); Sao Joao De Madeira to Santo Avideo Metro to Matoshinhos via the metro
The Trail
The decision we had to make today was whether to cycle all the way to Matoshinhos or not. The distance wasn’t a problem as it was a beautiful day and we had plenty of time. However, speaking with other pilgrims at ‘Residential Celeste', some who had done part of this route before, they highly recommended taking public transport through the city of Porto rather than walking or cycling. This method was recommended because the closer you got to Porto, the more industrial areas you had to pass through and the traffic becomes heavier. Rather than face the smog, noise and the dangerous traffic, we thought that the metro would be a good choice. We decided to cycle as far as the Santo Avideo Metro, just 3.5k from the centre of Porto, and then hop on the metro. We also decided that rather than go into Porto, we would spend a few nights at the seaside suburb of Matoshinhos, which is a suburb of Porto. We would be going back to Portugal before returning to Australia so if we didn’t get to see much of Porto this time, we would have a chance on our return. 
So, major decisions made, we headed off on what we expected to be a nice day of cycling. Right. This turned out to be our hardest day so far :-( 
Our first challenge was leaving town as we immediately lost the arrows we were following and, even though we kept referring to the guide book, we just could not find our way. We did, however, get to see many beautiful churches, some of which were completely covered in blue tiles.

Church covered with blue tiles
Finally we located the arrows and got back on trail. At one point we ended on the N1, a major motorway, which was too scary to cycle on; fortunately there was a sidewalk that we could ride on. There were very few arrows, which often left us wondering whether we were on the trail or not, or had we just missed seeing the arrows. For us having more arrows marking the way on this part of the trail would have been just nice to provide assurance that we were going the right way.  
About 7.6 kilometers after leaving our wonderful overnight stay we needed to turn at Malaposta, which was supposed to be the high point of the day. Don’t believe it. There were MANY more hills to be conquered before the day was over. Note that once you pass the sign that points the way to the village of Malaposta, you need to turn onto a small road, which is part of the preserved trail. However, the signage is tricky. We turned right as signed and proceeded down the hill before, thankfully, being hailed by a construction worker who directed us back up the hill. We made our way back up the hill to the sign and then saw that as soon as you turn right, you need to turn left behind the buildings and onto the Roman road, Via XVI. Note that once we realised this and looked at the arrows, we understood what the arrows were trying to tell us. So do a dog-leg, turning right and then immediately left. Pay attention here! Once we got back onto the trail, it was great ride! Away from the N1. Away from the traffic noise. Eventually onto an off-road dirt trail. Off-road trails which presented mud, mud and more mud. At times we had to make a path through the woods that ran beside the trail or get off onto a country road where we would inevitably get lost. And get lost we did. This added more kilometers to our travels. Fortunately there were a number of cafes along our chosen path, so we took advantage of them, stopping at least three times to re-cooperate our weary bodies. 
Other than the mud and getting lost, we had a wonderful ride until we passed through Perozinho. Then it was uphill and hard. Once over the top we made our way downhill and met up with a lovely road taking us through a forest. Trees surrounded us on both sides and the road was tightly packed gravel, making it very nice for cycling. A very lovely and peaceful cycle. Imagine our surprise, however, when we emerged from the forest to find ourselves surrounded by garbage. Turns out the locals were dumping their garbage right there on the ground, perhaps being unaware that this was a major cycle trail.
Coming out of the forest we joined a country road and were shortly faced with two routes, both downhill. What we didn’t want to do was take the wrong downhill as it would mean turning around and going, yikes, uphill again. Given this wasn’t marked with arrows we decided that the left road was the way to go. Well, I guess the gods of hill climbing thought we needed more practice. Once we got all the way to the bottom we found out that we had taken wrong road. We should have gone right. We ended up in a small village of Canelas, wandering around in circles. Finally Gerry remembered that he had Google Maps on his iphone, and checking the maps, he confidently set us off in the right direction. However, after bicycling 5 kilometers and ending up at a t-junction, we realised the iphone was pointing in the wrong direction (or something) and we should have gone in the opposite direction. So we turned around and cycled back. What’s another 5 kilometers here or there; or even another 10 kilometers! Much to our surprise, we were reunited with the arrows marking the route and found our way to the rotunda / roundabout and the metro.   
Taking the metro we were advised to get a tourist ticket but couldn’t figure out how to do this. Out of thin air a metro guard appeared and advised us what to do. We followed his advice and got our ticket to the main metro station where we were to buy our tourist ticket. However the line-up for tickets was long and, rather than wait, we decided to just buy a regular ticket for the rest of our journey to Matosinhos. Who should appear but the guard who helped us out earlier, and helped us buy a regular ticket. 
Coffee for weary cyclists at the beach at Matosinhos

View over the Atlantic Ocean from our apartment


The Recovery (food and accommodation)
Home for the next three nights was a great light and airy apartment overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, found on the Air BnB website. This turned out to be a marvelous place to recover and chill out. We had many wonderful meals in local restaurants and enjoyed salted cod fish with grilled onions on top, which is a local dish. Very tasty. Enjoyed many walks up and down the promenade and watching the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean from our balcony.
1 May 2014; 35k; Matosinhos to Povoa de Varzim
During our lovely time by the seaside we realised we had lots of time to make it to Santiago to catch our plane to England. Therefore we decided that for the rest of the pilgrimage we would slow down, take it easy and plan to cycle no more than 30/35k a day. This will make it a nice leisurely trip without us getting too tired. That was the plan.
Note: The guide book takes you to Vila do Conde from Porto and then rejoining the waymarked route from Vilarinho. We planned to follow the coastal route, rejoining the waymarked route at Redondela. This would give us some time by the ocean while avoiding the two days mentioned in the guide book that had the hardest hills: Ponte de Lima to Rubiaes and Rubiaes to Tui(Valenca). We’ve been there and done that with the hills, so no need to conquer more this trip (or so we thought).
The Trail
We left Matosinhos at 9am via the lifting bridge, following the route to Vila do Conde. We were lucky to arrive in time to see the bridge being lifted, thus allowing a cargo boat to pass through. This gave us time to take in the scenery for about 40 minutes. Once over the bridge we followed a bicycle path which hugged the ocean, enjoying a gentle headwind all the way. 
As the guide book says, keep the ocean to your left and head north. We would recommend that if on bicycles, do not follow the arrows onto the beach even though the trail often leads there. We did and found we could not cycle on the beach as the sand was far too thick and soft! Yes we found out the hard way!
Heather struggling in the sand hills


 We got to the beach by following another couple on bicycles and they went down to the beach. It wasn’t long until they were looking a little frazzled so, being quite a way behind them, we decided to cut our beach walk short as soon as possible. It took us quite a while to find a way to reconnect with the road. It was a hard slog. At one time we joined up with a boardwalk and thought we were in the clear. Not so. The boardwalk just led onto another stretch of sand. We finally made it to a small paved road, traveling through small villages that wound around local homes and shops. This road eventually led us to another forest/sandy road. It seemed like a popular cycling road but at one point forked in a number of directions. Which way to go? We explored a first path but the path eventually became very narrow and overgrown so we thought this could not be right, given the number of pilgrims we’ve been seeing, and turned back. We then tried the other three paths and found they were also not the right ones. We ended up back at the fork and taking the first path. Upon further exploration we noticed that at the entrance to that path, painted on a rock covered by the trees, was the yellow arrow pointing the way. So keep searching. Once we made our way through the overgrowth it turned out to be a lovely path on which to cycle.
On the right trail again

The Recovery (food and accommodation)
We arrived around 2pm at our destination, staying at ‘Sardine and Friends Hostel’, which was recommended by someone on the web. We had our own ‘family’ ensuited room, which consisted of a double bed with a bunk above, then two bunks on the other side of a divide. The cost was 30E, without breakfast. We were able to securely store our bicycles in a room off the kitchen.
Hostel balcony

Hostel Sardines & Friends


2 May 2014; 40k; Povoa de Varzim to Viana do Costelo
The Trail
Left around 10am today. What a lovely ride. Mostly ocean on our left and a sea breeze in our faces. You’ll notice we already overshot our 30/35k per day limit, but what the heck. We were cycling on small roads all day. The riding was very easy. A perfect day for cycling. We just went with the flow. So, while planning is a good thing, we didn’t hold ourselves to committing to our decisions. We would check with each other about how we were feeling, and if both agreed, would go on. Heather’s bicycle was so happy to continue onwards it started squeaking.
As the day went on my bicycle started squeaking even louder. Fortunately on the trail at Viana Do Castelo there is a bicycle shop, Bikeseven. We stopped in and told Paulo that Heather’s bicycle was not sounding right.  He took it for a spin, then took it into his workshop and did a small repair, then gave it a mini service. When we asked to pay, he asked if we were doing the pilgrimage to Santiago.
Bikeseven bike shop owner Paulo, pilgrim friend

When we said yes, he told us there was no charge. In return Gerry bought a cycling shirt from him. All this was done without each speaking the others language; amazing how humans can communicate. We found that people were very helpful all along the way, even more so when they found out we were doing the pilgrimage. So if cycling through Viana do Costelo say hello to Paulo.

The Recovery (food and accommodation)
What a lovely town Viana do Costelo is! We stayed at O Meu Amor, which is a lovely pensao, for 38E, including breakfast, and located in the centre of the old town. The pensao also had cooking facilities. Our room was the ‘Indian Room’ at the top of the stairs; very steep polished hardwood stairs.

Indian room in hostel, with our bike bags!

The window looked left to a cathedral and right to a row of houses. A very pretty view. Unfortunately the stairs were well polished resulting in Gerry falling down them, hurting his foot and badly bruising his arms & bottom (pictures are available if requested), not to mention his pride! His foot was okay to cycle with, but not walking. We hoped at this time that our days of pushing our bikes up hill and holding them back going downhill were over. If not, then we would have to finish the pilgrimage in another way.

View from hostel window

Town square, great place for a coffee and people watchinhg

3 May 2014; 52k; Viana do Costelo to Valenca
The Trail
Today we were going to catch the ferry at Caminha (Portugal) to A Guarda (Spain), giving us a short 28k day. It will be lovely to have a ferry ride and enter Spain on water.
It was a nice cycle to Caminha and we were looking forward to a pleasant ferry ride. However, when we arrived at Caminha we found that the ferry had shut down permanently four days earlier, on 29th April. We would have to bicycle 12k north to get to the bridge at Villa Nova de Cerveira that would take us to Spain, and then another 13k south to get to A Guarda.  Alternatively we could bicycle to the bridge and then continue on the road for another 16k taking us to Valenca. This would mean that we would rejoin the waymarked way in Valenca rather than Redondela. It would also mean that Redondela would only be 31k away once we arrived in Valenca. If we continued onto Spain today, and followed the coast from A Guarda we would have a 72k bicycle to Redondela. Humm. Tough decision. Do we spend more time on the road cycling or do we go straight onto Valenca. Given the condition of Gerry’s foot we decided to go to Valenca as that would give him more opportunity to rest and we could even take our time.
However, if you are reading this you will see that today we ended up cycling 52k, way beyond our 30/35k per day. It doesn’t appear that we have been able to hold ourselves back and take it easy. Perhaps this foot accident was a way to make us slow down? 
Enroute to Caminha we passed through the seaside town of Vila Praia de Ancora. The main street was decorated with banners of flowers, looking spectacular. The town was celebrating a spring festival where men putting flowers outside their sweethearts houses as a way to win their hearts. Apparently, rival women sneak out at night and switch the flowers to other women’s houses. This was a nice place to have a coffee and watch the entertainment.


Back on our bikes and onto a very busy road. At one point we pulled over to let the traffic by so we could get to the t-junction we needed. However, a car stopped right at the t-junction and wasn’t moving, which blocked our path. So we waited and waited until he would leave. Suddenly he jumped out of his car and came running up to us to see if we needed help. We told him where we were headed and he pointed us in the direction we needed to go. We decided that rather than wait for him to leave, we had better get moving. So we bicycled to the t-junction and stopped behind his car. Suddenly he jumped out again, only this time forgetting to put his car in park. As he approached us I started pointing to his car and yelling that his car was moving into the oncoming traffic. He jumped into it, put on the hand brake then got out again to tell us what he forgot to say before. By then there were quite a few cars lined up behind him and us, but no one minded. We found everyone very chilled out and just took things as they came.
As we bicycled along the Minho River we arrived at Villa Nova de Cerveira. Here we were entertained by a marching band with drums and bagpipes as another spring festival was in full swing. So we stopped and had yet another coffee, enjoying the entertainment before continuing on to Valenca. When we arrived at Valenca we were tired and worn, having cycled more than twice our planned length. We were ready for food and a bed!

Pipe & drum band
The Recovery (food and accommodation)
We stayed at our first alburge! Bunks, bunk and more bunks. A couple of sick people as well. We also met an Australian couple staying there and joined them for supper in the walled area of Valenca. Had a lovely visit with them. While the cost of staying at the alburge is cheap (5E a night for each of us) we do prefer the luxury of our own room and bathroom. Having tried out an alburge, we decided we do not have to do it again, we would leave that to the youngsters.
Bunk room at albergue


4 May 2014; 40k; Valenca to Arcade (supposed to be Redondela and 31k)
The Trail
Today we leave Portugal and enter Spain. We got on the trail around 10am, being the last to leave the alburge as we were in no hurry. Today was very hot! We stayed mostly on the trail as outlined in the guide book all the way. It was very good riding and very beautiful. There were hills, but nothing like we had seen before. We must be getting fit. At least the hills were small enough that we didn’t need to get off and push the bicycles.
Across the bridge to Spain, so much for borders
The trail travels through small villages and nice paths. We quickly arrived at Orbenlle and a cafe which the guide book states is the last chance to get fortified before entering an industrial park. We figured we had better stop and get fortified. When we arrived our order was taken three times within a 20 minute period. Forty minutes later we still hadn’t been served and decided it was time to leave. Meanwhile we watched others arrive, be served and carry on with their journey. When we started to mount our bicycles, suddenly our coffees appeared. Not impressed, but we stayed and enjoyed them. Then, when we went to pay, they tried to charge us for things we didn’t order. All in all, we would recommend you not stopping here. Not only was the service terrible (for us), but a little further down the trail there were a number of local cafes to choose from. Funny how these small things can be annoying. This was the first time we had such bad service so it took us by surprise.
Note: there is now a new path that misses this area and the industrial area completely. This is not yet in the guide book but would be well worth exploring. There are signs up about it so it seems it may be a good alternative. We have read that the local café owners are removing the signs to this path, so keep a look out for it.
The Recovery (food and accommodation)
We were hoping to stay in Redondela but everything was booked up by large groups of walking pilgrims. We ended up cycling another 8 kilometers to Arcade, staying at Hotel Durate (which is in the guide book). The hotel cost 30€ for a room. Not only did it have a lovely hot shower, it also over-looked the inlet and that evening we were treated to a lovely sunset. What a pleasant way to end the day.
View over the inlet from hotel room
That night we ate at the restaurant located next to the hotel as we didn’t feel like walking into the town. We had a very delicious meal but outrageously expensive! The cost of the meal caught us completely by surprise as we were used to meals being very affordable. Perhaps they realised they had a captured audience who were ravenous!
 5-6 May 2014; 10.2k; Arcade to Ponteverdra
The Trail
Left the hotel around 8:30am. Today we had a short easy ride planned, which would make up for the extra kilometres we did yesterday. Before getting on our bicycles we went for breakfast at a small cafe that was a few shops from where we were staying and perfectly located as it was on the pilgrim trail. Gerry had their standard breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, bread roll, ham and cheese, costing 2€. As Heather was carrying her gluten-free cereal with her she asked for a cereal bowl, which they didn’t have, so ended up eating out of a coffee mug. She topped her breakfast up with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice (too good to miss!). 
We left around 10:30, after a leisurely morning of chatting with other pilgrims. We decided to stay on the N550 today rather than follow the route in the guide book which went off road quite a bit. Gerry’s foot was still hurting him and we wanted to minimise him walking on it as much as possible. We didn’t know whether we would end up pushing the bikes through mud or up/down hills if we followed the yellow arrows; we knew if we kept to the main road we could stay on the bicycles. As well, it was only a short ride today so the main road would be bearable. We were surprised at the amount of traffic we encountered, which ended up making the trip not so pleasant. However the drivers were very patient and gave us, as cyclists, a wide berth. Thus, we felt safe even though it was quite noisey. 
The Recovery (food and accommodation)
We arrived in Ponteverdra around noon and stayed at Hotel Madrid for two days. The hotel was easy to find, which was a relief. Once our bicycles were safely secured, we showered and found a local restaurant where we had a lovely tortilla for lunch. The tortilla was huge and delicious.
Spainish tortillas
As Gerry was still recovering from his fall he decided to sit in a cafe and people watch. Heather went on to explore the old town which is full of interesting ruins. Unfortunately all museums and churches were closed for siesta between 1 and 4pm. It did feel a little eerie to be one of only a few people on the street during the day. It was always surprising to see the streets come alive after 4pm.
Old town Ponteverdra

Shell shaped church containing statue of
St. James


7 May 2014; 21.3k; Ponteverdra to Caldas de Reis
The Trail
Left around 9:30am and arrived at Caldas de Reis around 1:30pm, following the trail all the way. The weather was excellent today, with lots of clouds to keep us cool without being cold. We passed lots of pilgrims on the trail. We stopped for coffee at San Amaro which is a very tiny village with three cafes, all doing a great trade from pilgrims. Here we met a group of pilgrims from Holland.
Nice riding

Enjoying coffee at San Amaro
a popular pilgrim café
note the shell design

From here the trail became a gravel path with a high point of 123 metres, and yes, we had to push our bicycles up again as the climb was very steep. Overall, the trail today was great for cycling, even though we had to do a bit of walking and pushing of the bicycles. We rode on tiny gravel roads and paths through fields, small villages and vineyards. We felt really great upon our arrival, not even a bit tired. This meant we were able to enjoy the town as soon as we arrived, not needing to have a nap right away. This was a very pleasant day.
The Recovery (food and accommodation)
We stayed at Hotel O Cruceiro, which is a combination of hotel and alburgue, although only a few beds were dedicated to the alburgue. Our bicycles were safely stored in a secure storage room around the side of the building.  It was a nice hotel with good service and good coffee. As we were hungry we out for a pre-supper meal of tortillas, which was enough to fortify us until the morning.
The trail can get interesting ! Stone steps!

A pilgrims sense of humour
The trail can get narrow


8-9 May 2014; 18.1k; Caldas de Reis to Padron
The Trail
Left around 9am. We followed the trail in the guide book today, enjoying a nice easy ride. We had perfect cycling weather. Perfect cycling trails. Only a few challenges. A well marked trail. Overall a great day. You can say a lot about a bad day--what challenges you faced or what could be better--but a great day is just that, a great day :-)

A new meaning to the word Crossroad

Enjoying a great day


The Recovery (food and accommodation)
Arrived at Hotel Chef Rivera around noon, where we stored our bicycles in the secure parking under the building. This was a perfect place from which to spend two days exploring this fascinating town. Of course, we had to try to Padron peppers. To make a more substantial meal, we had a tortilla with them. It was nice to be able to try local food that was gluten-free.  
The cover of the Brierley guide book we used had a picture of a cross emerging from the rocks and a statue looking away into the distance. The picture was taken here, at Padron, and we had read that it was worth visiting. So, we climbed the hill to Mount Santiaguino, the location of the picture. There we found a quiet little field on the hillside above Padron. It was a long steep climb that was well worth the effort. This was one of the most peaceful places we have ever encountered and we highly recommend everyone passing through Padron to spend some time here. For us, the importance of the site was that it represents an aspect of the life of St James, while Santiago represents his death. This is where St James preached when he was in Spain, while Santiago is where his body was brought to after King Herod beheaded him upon his return to Jerusalem. The site is a small green field on a hillside with a small chapel overlooking the town and the river. It feels like it has not changed much over the centuries. For us this was a highlight of the pilgrimage. No great cathedral. No monuments. No statues. In being less, there was actually more. There was something we could feel rather than touch or see. We hope this site stays as it is, unspoiled for centuries to come.

Mount Santiaguino

Also well worth the effort is a visit to the Iglesia de Santiago Y Padron Cathedral.  The Cathedral hosts the original stone where it is believed the boat that was transporting St James’ body was tied to. The stone is also believed to be a Roman altar dedicated to Neptune. You may have to ask the keeper of the Cathedral to put the light on so you can see the stone clearly. It is worth asking, and you have come this far so don’t miss it! Note that enroute to the Cathedral we were hijacked by a cafe owner from across the street. This cafe owner asked us to sign his book and to take his photo and our photo with him. Look out for him; he is a happy soul who loves talking to pilgrims and has dozens of books to document the pilgrims he has talked to over the years.
10-14 May 2014; 24.9k; Padron to Santiago
The Trail
Our last day on the trail and our arrival at Santiago.
We left around 9:30am. Today we again had a very pleasant ride, easily following the arrows, until we neared Santiago. Entering Santiago was confusing as the arrows were constantly disappearing. Fortunately the locals recognised us as pilgrims and directed us to where we needed to go, most of the time without even asking us if we needed directions.
Mont Agro was suppose to the high point of the day, at 260 meters. However, much to our delight, we found that climb easy. By now, though, we were wise enough not to celebrate as you never know what lies ahead. And sure enough, we encountered our hardest climb of the day just over the bridge at the Rio Sarela. This is the point where you could take one of two routes into Santiago. At this intersection sat a group of men, busily chatting. One of the men saw us coming, ran into his home and came back with a basket of shells, determined to sell us one. The pilgrim shell for Santiago pilgrims. We figured we made it this far without a shell, we didn’t need one now. We chose one of the routes, which turned out to be a bit rough, causing our bags to have a difficult time staying on the bike. However, we eventually made it to the busy streets of Santiago and the Cathedral. 
Nearly there, whooppee
Rather than go straight to our hotel we first went to the Cathedral and just soaked up the atmosphere. Heather’s entry was one of quiet solitude, while Gerry was taken by the crowds.
Made it at last

Does this mean no more cycling ?

The Recovery (food and accommodation)
We stayed for four nights at Nest Hotel, just outside the old section of Santiago. The hotel was recommended by BikeIberia as a bicycle friendly place where we could store our bicycles until the courier picked them up to return them to Lisbon. It definitely was bike friendly, as the staff went out of their way to help us. The hotel was well located, within a short walk to the old city. We had a great room with a balcony overlooking the main street, where we were able to hang out our newly washed clothes on our portable clothesline.
We decided to treat ourselves to a meal at a very nice restaurant. Gerry had an amazing burger, with chips and all sorts of accompaniments; Heather had a gluten free pasta that sounded more exciting than it tasted (at least it was filling).
Treating ourselves at a nice restaurant
The day after arriving we went to the midday pilgrim mass, arriving at the Cathedral at 10:30am to find the place already packed. Cardinal Pell from Sydney happened to be there and gave a nice speech about taking life one step at a time, just like a pilgrim. At the mass there were pilgrims from all over the world, some coming via foot, some via bicycle, many via car and tourist bus. After mass we got to see the swinging of the giant incense burner Botafumeiro, which was originally used to fumigate the sweaty and disease ridden pilgrims in the medieval times. It probably was useful even today! The crowd went wild, snapping whatever electronic device they had that contained a camera, in hope of a good photo.

Mass at the Santiago Cathedral

The Cathedral is amazing, done out in gold, carvings and pillars. Overwhelming. Equally overwhelming were the crowds and this wasn’t even the busy season! 
We decided to get a final stamp in our pilgrim passbook that would be representative of Santiago. To do this we had to go to the pilgrim tourist office (stamps are not given at the Cathedral). In addition to our stamp, we were surprised to be issued with a certificate of our journey, with our name written on the certificate in Latin. As they did know the Latin name for Heather, her second name was translated instead.  

Outside the Cathedral at Santiago

 Santiago is definitely a place to people-watch as pilgrims and other tourists from all over the world arrive. It was fun seeing the varying reactions of the pilgrims as they made the final few steps of their pilgrimage to the Cathedral, knowing they too had arrived safely at last. Santiago is full of history and every church in Santiago is worth a visit, as each is beautiful in its own way. While there were many tourists and pilgrims here, and it was May, we got the feeling that summer would find Santiago overcrowded.  
We finally packed up our bicycles for transport back to Lisbon and caught the plane to England for the next part of our journey. Given we were travelling for another four months, being able to hire our bikes from BikeIberia and receive such great service made our pilgrimage very enjoyable.

 Each day between Lisbon and Porto presented a new and unexpected challenge. Had we known the challenges and obstacles we were to face we might have reconsidered our trip or the route travelled. Fortunately one can never know what lies ahead, and as a result we had a fantastic experience. When out on the road with all your worldly belongings in two saddle bags, and “home” being on the other side of the globe, each challenge had to be met and overcome. There could be no procrastination or giving up, just taking everything with good cheer and carrying on. One of the challenges we faced was constantly getting lost. Asking for directions sometimes helped and at other times hindered when a misunderstanding about where you want to go occurs! It took us a few days to clue into Google maps, which saved the day sometimes (not always). As a general rule do not leave home without your Smart Phone, a data connection and Google Maps if you are on a bicycle, as when you need to bypass the off-trail trail and go onto the small country roads, you will need it.
 The trail from Porto to Santiago was much easier to follow, as more pilgrims make their way from Porto than from Lisbon. In fact, Heather would be comfortable doing the pilgrimage on her own starting from Porto. Visible arrows and plenty of them helped to keep us on track. It was a pleasant change after the challenge in the first part of the trip. It was much more difficult to lose the track and get lost on that section of the pilgrimage.
In general we found the Portuguese to be very helpful and friendly and they would go out their way to help a pilgrim. Before we left on our trip we were warned that Portuguese drivers were really bad and you had to be really careful if you were cycling. We found this to be the complete opposite and were pleased at the patience and curtsey of the local drivers.
Gluten-free Eating on the Camino
  One of our challenges on the pilgrimage was for Heather to maintain a gluten-free diet.  Prior to leaving Brisbane we downloaded a Portuguese and a Spanish card that described what Celiac Disease is and the requirements of a gluten/wheat/oat-free diet. This card was our lifesaver and we used it everywhere we went.  You can down load them from the web site

We found that eating gluten-free in Lisbon was very easy as Portuguese cooking is wholesome, using fresh ingredients and almost everyone who worked in the restaurants understood what was needed for a gluten-free diet. We tried to eat at smaller owner-run places as they were often more knowledgeable about food. Thus, most restaurants were able to provide gluten-free meals. We also found that the noon meal was a very large meal which, if we ate, meant we only needed to eat a smaller meal in the evening. We did this whenever we could. This process worked really well when we were tourists, but we soon found out that once we began cycling the Camino it was not possible to eat a big lunch and continue riding.

Shopping for gluten-products in the grocery stores was hit and miss. Some of the larger grocery stores sold a few gluten-free products so we were able to buy these and put together some light meals. We also found that outside Lisbon it was more difficult to find gluten-free products in grocery stores. Gluten-free rice rounds were sometimes available, as was peanut butter.  


Gluten free supplies on the road

Gluten free standbys

Gluten-free cereal showed up occasionally and, as it was light to carry, we would buy a box and transfer the contents to a plastic bag, packing it at the top of the pannier and trying not to crush it. Some stores sold rice or almond milk so there was no need to buy cow’s milk. Occasionally we were able to buy mixed nuts and some gluten-free bars and cookies for a quick energy fix while on the road.

Often the fruit and vegetables in grocery stores were very sad looking. At this time of year, however, the mandarins were fabulous everywhere. Potatoes are plentiful but hard to carry. The trick, we soon learned, was to find out where the local markets were and shop there.  Markets had an excellent supply of beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables and we headed to them whenever we stopped for the day.
Generally the meal on the road included gluten-free rice rounds/crackers, some kind of cheese (the small Edam cheeses travelled well given they were individually wrapped), cucumber, Philly cream cheese or peanut butter with bananas (when we were lucky to find one that was ripe but not mushy). A mandarin was always a nice snack.

We generally stayed at places that included breakfast, which consisted of bread, ham and cheese. This was great for Gerry but not Heather. Thus, our own supplies came in handy for breakfast, although often the cheese that came with breakfast was gluten-free. Note that the price for the accommodation was the same whether or not you ate the breakfast, but this didn’t bother us as we were always happy to have a nice bed and a hot shower at the end of the day.

 Clothing and Accessories

Our decision to cycle the Camino rather than walk meant we needed cycling clothes as well as travel clothes. To minimise our luggage as much as possible, Heather invested in hiking pants that zipped off at the leg, changing into shorts. She used these to cycle in, wearing her cycling underpants for added comfort. In this way, after we finished the pilgrimage, her pants-come-shorts would be good to wear for the rest of our journey. Gerry chose to take special cycling shorts to cycle in.

Heathers Gear

Gerry's Gear




Portugal Camino Pack List - April 2014
Must Have
Bras – light weight
Cloths line & 10 pegs
utensils, just in case
Travel undies
Wash cloth
Small backpack (each)
Merino polo tops - short sleeves
Travel towel
Tea towel
Merino turtleneck - long sleeves
Merino tee shirt - short sleeve
Toilet paper
Travel shirt – long sleeves
Glasses, cleaner and cloth
Fleece top - long sleeves
Hand cleaner
Merino undershirt
camera & batteries & charger
document folder
Socks (less if not cycling/hiking)
Tickets & receipts
Pants zip into shorts
Lip balm, H
blow up hanger
Memory stick, with doc copies
Lightweight Sleeping bag
head lights or torch's
Sleeping sheet
Cash Card
Down vest
Debit card & attached account
Water proof cap/beanie
Camino Guide & Portugal Map
Credential, 1 each
Money belt & travel wallet
Walking shoes
Portuguese language book
Sandals and\or thongs
Drivers licence & IDL, 1 each
   1     Long Pants - G
Travel insurance document
Cycling Clothes
First Aid kit, small
Cycling underpants
iPad mini
Cycling shorts
Wound dressing
Cycling wind vest
Travel charges & cables
Elastic bandage
Cycling top - long sleeves
Sport tape
Neck cover
Large backpack
Antiseptic cream
Cycling gloves - short & long
Small day packs
Re-sus mask
Cycling shoes
Backpack rain cover
Wear on plane
 Carry on plane


Christ the King Monument, looks like the one in
Rio only smaller
Lisbon sights

Mall in Lisbon

One of the many city squares

Café in a city square

Subdued entrance to very expensive hotel

Monument to the Discoveries

Belem Tower
On the Trail


Bikeways were always welcome

Who is lost, there it is ahead !

Up we go.

Through vineyards


OK I need a break !

A great day

Entrance to a disused Quinta (Manor house)

Gravel Road

Lots of cobbled roads, bumpy even with suspension

Great views

Corn storage or Espigueiros
Common in rural Portugal

Links to Australian Camino Sites.

Australian friends of the Camino
Australian Friends of the Camino a web site for all things Camino
Pilgrims in Sydney