Monday, October 31, 2016

October 31, 2016: Camino Portuguesa: Day 3. Vila Franca da Xira to Azambuja

Subtitle: I Ate in a Mall and I Liked It
The Camino Portuguesa started this morning at the train station.

Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far. 
Thomas Jefferson

We started this morning from our hotel in Vila Franca da Xira called the Flora Guesthouse. After a European breakfast, we were off to find the Camino Markers at the waterfront of River Tejo. 

We constantly look for these yellow and blue markers to guide the way of the peregrino. We are also following at this point the pilgrimage to Fatima.

From here, in general terms, we walked mostly on secondary roads with no shoulder in full sun with very little protection from passing cars. And instead of rivers or fields or old buildings, we walked predominantly past factories. The one that loomed constantly in our path was a thermoelectric plant. Based on the shapes of the cooling towers, it was most likely nuclear power, although steam is a possibility with the proximity of the Tejo River.

Most of the day we walked toward this monstrosity...and later away from it. A "thermoelectric plant."

The only wildlife we spotted today. Hundreds of snails covering greenery along the roadside.

In general, I would say this day held very little to recommend it as a walking path. Mostly we were on a road with no provision for walkers. The traffic was light, but speedy. Fortunately, most everyone tried to accommodate us. 

We did make two stops. One was Carregado. This was a factory town. We stopped for a tea . Well we stopped for a diet Coke, but they were having NONE of that. One thing we noticed was that wine and beer at lunch were the norm.  Tea was all we could get, but any watering hole on the trail is a gift. They sold cigarettes at the counter one by one which you don't see every day.  Our second stop was a truck stop in Vila Nova da Rainha. This town appeared to be a service area for overland trucks. There are numerous highways and bridges across the Tejo in this area, as well as ports and railways. We walked past quite a few large containers for ships.  We ate at trucker haven. The food was hearty!

Hearty meals at a truck stop! Drive by truckers abound.

From Vila da Rainha, we decided to take the train for the last two miles. Having walked about 10 already, a saunter along a truck freeway with no sidewalk seemed unappealing if not foolhardy. When we went to the train station, it appeared there was an alternate route not featured on the pilgrim map along the backside of the railway. But so be it. It's not a contest and we arrived in Azambuja about O beer thirty.

We haven't sampled all the local beer yet. This brand, Sangres,is ubiquitous, but Super Bock is also popular.

From here, we made our way to the country estate of Casa do Alfaro. Paul will probably discuss this at length, but suffice it to say, from my point, it is a bit out of town, an old estate and winery and really a nice bed and breakfast.  Photos tomorrow! We are staying here two nights. The owners are amazingly accommodating and have gone above and beyond to make our stay lovely. And I want to say that is entirely characteristic of the Portuguese people on this part of the camino. The Spaniards along the camino are very polite also, but these folks go above and beyond. Paul even had the bathroom cleaner approach him to be sure the restroom was satisfactory.   As part of their hospitality, the bed and breakfast recommended a dining spot for us and had their house taff take us to it . The name of the restaurant was Flor da Sal. And it was in food court in a small mall. And it was delicious. FOOD PORN ALERT!

Paul in the mall at Flora da Sal

Our dinner. Fresh sea bass grilled with veggies. Healthy and delicious!

Flat doughnut. (No. We didn't eat it.)

The dessert display. WE had's like angel food cake without the flour

The bill....about $30 for two people with ample wine and water.

So, an interesting day. If you do this walk, please SKIP this section and just take the train to Azambuja and walk to Sacarem. Unless you seriously enjoy future super fund sites, it's probably time better spent elsewhere. That said, we made it through about 10 miles smiling, staying in a great place and enjoyed a lovely mall meal. Who knew?

I should be content
to look at a mountain
for what it is

and not as a comment on my life.….

David Ignitor: News of the Universe

Daily humor. The mall in Vila Franca da Xira. Bowling Bingo Mall.
Paul's Ponderings:  Another interesting day in southern Portugal.   We had a lot of "industrial hiking" but it all ended well.    We are staying outside Azmabuja in a lovely remodeled estate.   Weirdly, we had dinner in a mall restaurant, which we would never do in the US.   Great fish and vegetables for the main course followed by local dessert.  Overall, the hike today is marginally recommended due to the large amount of factories, etc, but we still had a good time and it's certainly the best way to see the country at an everyday level.   Dinner was great and the folks we have met are super friendly and helpful.   We have done the long hikes in this trek mileage-wise, so look forward to some shorter (aka 9-10 mile) walks tomorrow and beyond.   

Back to the estate we are staying at, you can google it online, but it is called Casa Do Alfaro and it is an incredibly lovely place and very affordable.   Best I can tell, they have remodeled an old house to accommodate 10 bedrooms or so, along with a huge salon, breakfast room, etc.   It's 2-3 miles outside of town, but worth the trip.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

October 30, 2016: Day 2: Povoa da Iria to Vila Franca da Xira

Church on the hill of Alhandra

Port of Alhandra
This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honour, is but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

William Shakespeare

Before photo!
Walking is a great thing. I remember reading the perspective article of one page length that at least used to be the conclusion of Backpacker magazine. A single sheet of philosophy about the backpacking life circa 1992. The back page said' "It's a small world after all....until you walk to the next town."  Having done it many times, you see few people walking from downtown to Bearden or to Seymour or Turkey Creek. We are an "automobile" society who have abandoned our feet for comfort and probably much more so for convenience and the salvation of time. I know. I do it myself and very often. But walking town to town is an existential experience in some ways. You are subject to the weather, the conditions of the roads, the people (and animals) and towns you meet along the way.  We should sometimes be subjected to the unknown , the intangible and the serendipitous that riding in a car cannot bring.

And so we began today where we left front of River Tejo which is separated in varying small degrees from the Atlantic Ocean. A tidal marsh full of wonder.
We started our walk at Parque Dos Pecadores.. the two fisherman. In the distance faintly is the Vasco de Gama bridge.

The city of Povoa de Iria is a "Farragut" of Lisbon, a bedroom community. Probably less affluent than our hometown version, Povoa has many high rise apartments. Paul suspects EU money created this beautiful green space between town and the ocean. We saw many families, bikers, runners and walkers on the miles-long boardwalk next to Ribera Tejo

This photo is to try to capture all the birds above the trees. We saw THOUSANDS of them migrating. We never could tell what species. 

Abandoned mall on the oceanfront. Every store closed and guarded by machine gun carrying militia. 
We started the day walking down the River Tejo. This river is the longest in Portugal and Spain. It empties into the Atlantic Ocean after spanning both countries.  This is the River from which boats sailed during the age of discovery---da Gama,  Columbus. Now it is predominantly  cargo ships peppered with sail boats and fishermen. 

Paul at the beginnings of the Parque Dos Pescadores
The city of Povoa da Iria has a beautiful and expansive greenway along the river with a long boardwalk.  It was so great to see all the migrating birds even though we couldn't tell what they were. They streamed through the sky in the thousands weaving a pathway above the treeline and along the river.  There are apparently about 50 bird species winging their way through the region this month...not counting Delta and Lufthansa. A pleasure to see. We also saw flamencos. These were at a distance and definitely NOT pink, but nonetheless beautiful and a wonderful surprise. 
White flamencos in the distance dancing for shells
We enjoyed this walk which we believe to have been approximately 3 miles. We recommend it to anyone visiting Lisbon. Take the train to Povoa de Iria and you can ride back from the station in Alverca.  We stopped there for a water break at a grocery store. Not sexy, but it did the trick. The next  section of the Camino Santiago we definitely recommend finding a way around...easily done by train. Here we walked along a fairly trafficked road with no sidewalk. The cars were a foot or two away and it was mildly to moderately unnerving dependent on who was coming toward you and what you can see. Unfortunately, this part of the camino is rarely used and there aren't many peregrinos on it, so motivation is minimal in economically challenged region to provide greater safety for walkers. 
But we made it okay, praisethelordandpassthemashedpotatoes.  

From this point we had a couple of really nice treats. 1. Another boardwalk or paved walkway along the river/seaside and 2. An amazing restaurant for lunch with a river view. 

Gorgeous walkways above the marshes

morning glories greet us daily

The view from our lunch stop. Can't beat that!

A lunch of salad greens, fried local cheese on apple slices and pumpkin preserves. This was SERIOUSLY NY city food on a riverside in rural Portugal.  The server lived in NYC for a year

Cormorant swimming

Paul with bamboo

Our waiter lived a year in Spring Valley , NY. We recommend Voltar ao Cais...return to the harbor. Lotsa seafood, great culinary experience in the middle of nowhere Portugal (Okay it was in Alhandra, but you've never heard of it, right?)

After walking in close proximity to speeding cars from Alverca to Alhandra, this is just what we needed: Lovely scenery and a world class luncheon.

The remainder of our 10 mile journey for today to Vila Franca da Xira was uneventful and a scenic. We continued a path along Rio Tejo (okay we had to climb over a bridge and a fence to keep on the trail, but what of it?) into our destination for the night. The riverwalk was great and about every kilometer or so was a bench painted with graffiti. Here is an example:

The bullring in Vila Franca and the back of the bench painted of bullring on a camera phone. 

We were able to complete our walk today in under 4 hours instead of the 6-7 of yesterday. We checked into our basic but good hotel of Flora. After a shower and a nap, we proceeded to our restaurant of the evening, Al Forno. We read the served beef on swords there. Why not? It's not like there's that many beef on swords in my life.

Lovely very local River Tejo wine.  Tasted like pinot noir but cannot name the grape,

The restaurant. The walls were covered with photos of bullfighting

The wine cellar.

Paul with beef on a sword. That is about 6 petit filets of serve two in Portugal

Creme catalan

The late Sunday streets of Vila Franca da Xira

What we deciphered en route here on the riverfront walk and especially at the restaurant is that this town STILL has bullfighting. Our lovely waiter told us they do NOT kill the bull and invited us to return.. We think we might do just that. We showed so much interest in their local matador tradition that he sent us home with 3 local books about it. We tried to refuse repeatedly but he kept insisting. This town is so lovely and quiet, on the RIVER TEJO  and the ocean. It has artisans, restaurants and bulls where bulls are not sacrificed. What else do you need?

Bullfights have so much color. Not just the matador but also the bull, the arena, and the public. It's all very festive. 

Fernando Botero

Paul's Ponderings:  Another lovely day out walking in Portugal!   It's quite a variety of experiences.   Not to wax philosophical, but we had some fairly wretched walking on roads for a mile or so in heavy traffic, coupled with incredible rural scenes.   If the camino is supposed to be a spiritual journey of a sort, then we had the stress and the beauty that life provides, all encapsulated in a day's walk in Portugal.  

We had a weird experience after lunch when we ran into a closure on the path.  As a result, we hiked around thru a dirt field, climbed around a flimsy fence, then pulled ourselves up onto the bridge from the other side, while surrounded by a few teenage boys doing the same thing.   After a short walk on a path that was paved but being reworked, we ran into a guy with a skateboard that he was carrying.  No doubt appearing to be clueless Americans to him, he asked us "where are you going and do you know there's another fence ahead that you can't get around?".  He also commented "I'm pretty skinny but you may not be able to squeeze thru".   Fair enough.   When we got there we found a fence on the path with a bike rack stuck in the water to complete the roadblock.   Being the enterprising folks we are, we climbed out on the bike rack over the water and then swung over it and clambered back up on the other side.   Not a wet foot in process.  A bit later, we saw a guy on a fancy bike wearing spandex and he said "where did you come from -- isn't the road blocked?".   Again, no doubt we appeared to be walking the camino but he couldn't figure how we got past the blockage.   We discussed this a bit and he went on his way, so we assume he and his bike went over it, which is no mean feat.   Our conversation included the words "we are not triathletes".   Interesting day.  

Thankfully we arrived in one piece and concluded with a great meal, local wine, and a sword full of meat!   

A random door in Vila Franca da Xira

October 29,2016 Day 1: Camino Portugesa Lisboa to Povoa da Iria

"Portugal is a high hill with a white watch tower on it flying signal flags. It is apparently inhabited by one man who lives in a long row of yellow houses with red roofs, and populated by sheep who do grand acts of balancing on the side of the hill."
Richard H. Davis

We are on the road again here in Portugal and walking the Camino Portuguesa.  It's good to be out in the beautiful weather , soles on cobbles here.  Paul has been to Portugal before, but I am a newcomer to this land. We decided to start our experience with walking the first stage of the Camino, since we are postseason, and catch up with Lisbon afterward.

Part of the Camino Santiago Portuguesa. A track along the side of the Trancao River

     The walk starts at Cathedral Se, on hill in the middle of two streets in Lisboa. The cathedral is very lovely, as most of this ilk are.

Cathedral Se

A look at the interior

A very gaudy green robe inside a grotto inside Cathedral Se. Hey. I'd wear it!
We proceeded from there down typical cobblestone streets in Lisbon. We marveled at all the work utilized to place the cobbles and were instantly glad we weren't tasked to do this. It had to be grueling. We walked down narrow lanes and past businesses and museums, finally reaching the sea front. Here we were treated to the seaside park for quite a distance. We "cheated:" and road the cable car down the oceanfront for about a mile--great views of the water and the inner city.

Paul "enjoying" cable car ride...or maybe not based on the face.

Great views of the ocean and city from on high.
 From here we walked beneath the gargantuan Vasco de Gama suspension bridge.. Lovely and photogenic, it appears to go on for numerous miles. It was built on the 500th anniversary of Senor Da Gama's reaching India by sea. (I knew that 4th grade social studies class would serve me well one day!)

A man and big dang bridge

The Vasco de Gama bridge is a cable-stay bridge that is the longest bridge in Europe. It spans the Tagus River.
 Eventually we ended up at the mouth of the Trancao River, a tidal estuary, which we followed to the outer suburb of Sacavem. We had a nice lunch near the banks. Interestingly, the tide was coming in, creating a current upriver.  There were literally hundreds of seagulls on the river riding the current upstream. Not sure if it contained a favorite food or if this was just for fun.

The Trancao River

After walking about 9 miles on roads, we made a lunch stop on the river. It wasn't all that tasty but it sufficed.

The VIP restaurant (or so they said) on the river. A welcome stop after 9 miles of walking. 
We were finally treated after miles of cobblestones and a nice walk on the oceanfront in Sacavem to a riverside walk on a single track trail. This passed farm, abandoned houses and factories and unfortunately, lots of discarded trash. It seems to be the norm.

One of several abandoned large buildings along the camino. This looked like it was once a farm area

Walking through tall grasses

Abanadoning trash is common along the camino. Paul says "not unlike Cocke County in the 1960s"

Graffiti is very commonplace as well. We saw some excellent artwork...not sure this qualifies :)
 We also passed several flocks of goats with their tenders. The only town we passed after Sacavem was the tiny village of Alpriate. There was a single bar/restaurant called Nadia's where we stopped for lemonade.

Gotta love Portugal. You can call your lemonade "BI" and people will 1. buy it 2. drink it and no letters were written to the producer :)
Nadia runs a happening joint with nearly everyone in town present. We saw young guys fresh from soccer games, middle aged men and women playing dominoes and an elder gentleman riding along in his jazzy wheelchair honking a horn constantly. All seemed happy. We were the novelty item.
Everyone spoke and were very friendly.

From there it was on to a less stellar section of hiking, much of it on a road with no sidewalk to Povoa da Iria. Of course we got bit lost on the way to the train station, but it all ended well . We are overnighting in Santa Iria at the VIP hotel. I've seen Justin Timberlake on the video screen, but otherwise, not many VIPS around.

 We had a lovely dinner at an Azorean restaurant Nove Ilhas. They started us with pulpo and local cheese and finished with chocolate and fish courses in between. Food porn alert!

The restaurant kept seafood on dry ice creating an ethereal presentation

Chocolate torte? After 18 miles of walking, why not? (We split it.)

Portuguese fish...with parma ham

Paul's fish special served on spinach and potato

The interior of the restaurant. Portugal is never without soccer on TV

Cheese please!

A cold marinated pulpo.

Why yes, a pirate does like an oyster!
YUM. Overall a good day with approximately 20 miles of hiking. I enjoyed the oceanfront and riverfront hiking, but some would best be skipped. We are reluctant to wholeheartedly recommend all of this section of the camino due to lotsa trash and an uninteresting path through Lisbon. But we enjoyed the ocean walk and most of the river very well. It's a toss up.

Goats added a melody to the walk

Narrow Lisbon streets near the start

View from the cable car (telecabina) along the way

Another view of Vasco Da Gama Bridge near Lisbon - very long bridge

Morning Glories abounded along the path

So a long walk, many things of beauty, some not so much. But we were tired and grateful at the end.

"I had no books at home. I started to frequent a public library in Lisbon. It was there, with no help except curiosity and the will to learn, that my taste for reading was developed and refined."
Jose Saramago

Paul's Ponderings:   I was in Portugal in the late 1970s and boy has it changed.  Presumably due to the influx of a lot of European Union money!   This was a LONG day of hiking...around 20 miles, which is about my limit of walking in one day.   It was an interesting trek.   Metro Lisbon is pretty medieval in parts, followed by lots of industrial areas, then lovely ocean/bay walking, then scruffy trails with intermittent trash all over   I commented more than once that "this looks like Tennessee in the 1960s as far as folks dumping trash down ravines all over the place".   Kind of sad in such beautiful country.   That aside, we've had great weather today and had a lovely meal in a local fish restaurant tonight....the locals here are pretty varied on ability to speak English, so we get along in a combination of that, Spanish, and so forth.   It's all good though and we are very lucky to be here at this time of year.   We literally had the entire 20 mile Camino to ourselves!   We saw a few random bikers at the very end of the day and that was pretty much it.   The weather was pretty warm as the day wore on, up into the low 80s and pretty sunny.   By the time we got to our destination we were pretty much cooked from walking, but had a great dinner of seafood nearby with a nice Portugese red blend wine.    Having done quite a few long walks in recent years, we find that your appetite increases with mileage and you burn so many calories that you can pretty much eat whatever you like at dinner.   Lucky for us, there is a lot of healthy and tasty food here in this area.

So, 20 miles, tired feet, but all good in general is the bottom line.   Hopefully the next 40 miles will see the hiking gods with us along the way!