The Portuguese Way – Day 16

Date: 20 April 2018

Walked from: Barcelos

Walked to: Ponte de Lima

Distance: 34.7 km

I had an early start today, and was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise and perfect early morning walking conditions as I climbed my way out of the Barcelos area and up to sleepy little Tamel São Pedro Finn. Tragically (and I accept I may be over-dramatising this point), when I arrived there the cafe wasn’t open. I guess the extra 4 km I had to walk to have my morning custard tarts made them taste even better, but t’was with a heavy heart and a hungry stomach that I continued my walk northwards.

Today’s walk involved two hill passes (hardly Everest-like in their proportions) over the Neiva and Lima river valleys and lots of peaceful footpaths through woodland – largely pine and eucalyptus – and past a lot of tiny vineyards, which must surely have been producing grapes / wine for personal consumption only. The final 10 km into the market town (alas, no market today, but it’s attractive and, as the name suggests – Pont meaning bridge – it has a splendidly long bridge traversing a wide river) of Pont de Lima was pretty much all downhill, with a cold drink stop along the way to help cope with walking in 28C.

I met even more new people today (all of whom started in Porto), and only saw a couple of faces from the day before; I suspect I walked a longer day yesterday than most. I even met a couple of fellow London dwellers, and a number of friendly North Americans. Germans predominate – in fact, I’ve reached the conclusion that I really need to learn a bit of the language, if only to be able to talk to more people when I’m on walking holidays in the Iberian Peninsula, so I’ve signed up for an evening class when I get back.

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The Portuguese Way – Day 15

Date: 19 April 2018

Walked from: Vilarinho

Walked to: Barcelos

Distance: 27.5 km

Walking this second section of the Portuguese Way from Porto is shaping up to be a very different experience from the first part from Lisbon. As noted yesterday, the weather has changed radically – I actually sought out shade to walk in earlier, had an ice lolly, and had to apply sunscreen. Now that’s what I call progress! But there are also a lot more people doing the Camino. In fact, I met more people walking it today than in the entire 13 days from Lisbon to Porto. It’s hardly overrun, but when you’re used to having the trail to yourself, it’s a little disconcerting. Only a few of us have come from Lisbon – most started in Porto, and quite a few of those rode the metro the first six kilometres out of town. Because there are so many new walkers on route, there are also lots of walking wounded; from feet that aren’t used to the miles, to backs that still need to adjust to their rucksacks. I am working on perfecting starring into the middle distance and muttering the words ‘rain’ and ‘floods’ as I rock gently back and forth…

Anyway, today’s walk was quite lovely, especially after the last few days on busy roads. The sun was rising as I set out from Vilarinho, with the mist rising off the surrounding fields – it really was a beautiful morning. After stopping for breakfast (yup, I’m still starting my day with those Portuguese custard tarts) 10 km in, at pretty little São Pedro de Rates, the route took me through eucalyptus filled woods and along cobblestone lined village streets, mainly avoiding busy roads. On the approach to Barcelos, I even passed a sign telling me I had just 199 kilometres left to my walk – which I guess means I’ve already covered around 430 km on this particular holiday. It’s a good feeling to be over two thirds of the way through!

Barcelos, my home for the night, has some beautiful old buildings and a rather lovely river (crossed via a medieval bridge that still carries vehicle traffic, as well as us pilgrims) and is home to what my guidebooks says is one of Portugal’s best known markets. It was jam packed with everything from flowers and vegetable to live hens and pretty much every and any household good you can imagine, and business seemed brisk. When you’re carrying everything on your back though, it is so much easier to resist buying things than when you’ve just got to get it on the bus home!

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The Portuguese Way – Day 14

Date: 18 April 2018

Walked from: Porto

Walked to: Vilarinho

Distance: 27 km

This is going to be one of those ‘What’s that great ball of fire in the sky?’ type blog posts, because, today people, summer appears to have arrived at last in Portugal. Clear blue skies all day, sitting in a garden at 6pm in the evening enjoying the still hot sun type of sunny. And every other person staying in my hostel tonight only started their walks from Porto today and therefore have no idea at all of how damn lucky they are. Not that I’m bitter…

Anyway, it’s a good thing it was sunny, because getting out of Porto today – while straightforward – was a bit of a slog through a largely unattractive and uninspiring suburbia. That said, I was surprised at how quickly fields starting making their appearance, and there were some pretty cobbled streets as well as a very nice final four kilometres or so which took me past Mosteiro de Vairão (today’s main picture).

I also met a whole new cast of Camino characters; a South Korean woman and Danish man who met on their first day, actually at the start point of Lisbon Cathedral, some lovely Spanish people, a couple of friendly Tasmanians… and a very nice husband and wife from England. And not just anywhere in England; nope, turns out they’re from the island where I grew up. Never thought I’d meet anyone from Hayling Island on the Camino!

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The Portuguese Way – Day 13

Date: 17 April 2018

Walked from: Grijó

Walked to: Porto

Distance: 16.5 km

A couple of days after I started this walk, I looked at the map to see how far I had until I got to Porto – and it looked like it was still an awfully long way away. Now I’m here, and ‘only’ have 250 km or so to walk. That sounds quite a lot but is considerably less than the 380 km I have already covered to get here. I’m going to sleep tonight not sure which of the two route options I’ll take out of the city (along the coast or through the centre), or how long I’m going to take to walk to Santiago. But this much I know – I’ve met some incredibly interesting people and had some adventures that I’ll remember for the rest of my life in the past two weeks… and that is what makes long distance walking so damn cool.

Today’s hike was short and sweet. I walked in chatting away to Susan, and the kilometres seemed to fly by; we didn’t stop for breakfast, so apart from the apples Susan produced from her bag about 10 km in, we just kept going until we hit the cafes of Porto’s old town – where a celebratory sandwich was clearly in order. Walks into big cities are rarely picturesque, but the section of well preserved Roman Road through the woodland outside of Perozinho was really lovely, and of course the ‘big reveal’ of the view of Porto from the bridge into the city was fabulous.

With so much time on our hands (we arrived in town before 11.30am), I was able to fit in a trip to the laundrette, sort out some errands, and do a river cruise today – as well as have some long chats with interesting people and have a lovely dinner (octopus, nom nom) this evening. Tomorrow is another day, but today was certainly an ace one.

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The Portuguese Way – Day 12

Date: 16 April 2018

Walked from: Oliveira de Azeméis

Walked to: Grijó

Distance: 29.5 km

I’m back on the road again after two great days catching up with friends in Porto. I got the train back from Porto to Oliveira de Azeméis yesterday, and should hit Porto again (‘officially’ this time, via the Camino) tomorrow lunchtime. Meanwhile, it would appear there’s a whole lot of fairly uninspiring roadside walking to do.

That’s ok though, because the Camino isn’t just about the scenery, lovely as it is when you get great landscapes to walk through. It’s mainly about the people you meet and the villages you pass through – and the local cafes you stop at along the way. I passed a couple of wonderful tile-clad churches today, walked in the grounds of a beautiful monastery and wondered in a weird kind of awe at the shop selling religious-themed garden statue tat (later spotting a few in local gardens). I loved the atmosphere of the friendly Souto cafe in tiny Ferradal, where (once the other clientele had finished taking the mickey out of me for only being able to speak Spanish to the lady behind the bar – none the less, I got exactly the salad I wanted as a result) the local men gathered to play cards and shout at each other in what seemed like a light-hearted way, while I soaked it all in and sneaked a picture of a one intense game that way playing out right beside me.

Tonight I’m in Grijó, just 15 km outside of Porto, where I’ve met up with Susan, my new Camino friend who I haven’t seen in nearly a week. It’s remarkable how lovely it can be to catch up again with other people you’ve only known for such a short time – and SO much fun to catch up on the Camino gossip of people we’ve met or heard of along the way. Together with our fellow roomie (a Belgian man called Chris), we dined together with the hostel host and his family tonight, in their house next to the hostel. It was a pleasant meal, although once the son-in-law started moaning about all the migrant workers in Portugal (and note that I’d spent the meal speaking to the father-in-law in Spanish because he had spent 13 years working in Venezuela as a migrant worker himself), it felt like a good time to head for my bunk bed.

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The Portuguese Way – Day 11

Date: 13 April 2018

Walked from: Albergaria-a-Velha

Walked to: Oliveira de Azeméis

Distance: 21km

Today’s walk was done and dusted in super quick time – partly because I only had 21 km to cover because I was heading to Porto to catch up with friends who were flying in from London for the weekend. And partly because I ended up walking with Magdalena, the fab Polish woman I met yesterday, who is covering the Portuguese Way a huge 40km or more a day at a time; I’m a fast walker, but boy, can she can move!

As we get closer to Porto, the walk is getting less and less inspiring – frankly there’s a whole lot of roadside walking at the moment, and I don’t expect the situation to improve until I’ve hit the city and walked out the other side for a few days. What today did offer though was:

1) More flooded tracks through forest, on the path towards Albergaria-a-Nova;

2) Some walking on the disused railway track that runs all the way to Oliveira de Azeméis – where, thankfully, the railway line into Porto does still run from;

3) NO RAIN!!!!

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The Portuguese Way – Day 10

Date: 12 April 2018

Walked from: Anadia

Walked to: Albergharia-a-Velha

Distance: 35.5 km

It was a long walking day, but then once you’re soaking wet (I believe the correct meteorological expression for describing today’s weather is to say that it was peeing it down) and have already been walking in rain for hours, what difference does an extra 17km more than I actually needed to do really make anyway? And apparently rain is good for the skin. Or the soul. Or something.

Today’s 35.5 km may have been walked in trying climactic conditions, and almost entirely along roads (some of which had a bit more traffic than was necessarily ideal), but I laughed my arse off all day. Some of that was me giggling at the absurdity of my choice of holiday, but it was mainly because I walked again with Tim, who, despite presenting the linguistic barrier of speaking American-English, is hilarious – and a fellow huge fan of one of the best films of recent years… obviously I mean ‘Muppets Most Wanted’.

Comedic company aside, the highlight of today (even more so than the lunch eaten just before exiting the Lidl store we’d ducked into, and which was consumed – the lunch, not the supermarket – as we stood staring out at the rain) was definitely the hostel in Albergharia-a-Velha. A friendly, helpful host (he cleaned and dried our soaking wet walking clothes for us), the excellent company of a very nice Polish woman called Magdalena and a huge pasta and two bottles of wine dinner that set us back less than €6 in the local supermarket were all Very Good Things indeed.

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