Category Archives: Portugal

Porto to Vilharino

9/26 – I loved Porto, but it was time to move on. Today we walk 16 miles, taking 5 hours to actually get out of the suburbs of Porto and back to small towns, cornfields and cobblestone streets.image

Our guidebook said that today was a good day to contemplate our mortality (because we had to cross a busy highway), and I guess we did. We stopped for a break at a cemetery, busy with workers and family members attending to the memorials on the graves. imageThe custom here in the cemeteries we’ve seen is that bodies continue to be added to the original family plot, commemorated with small frames with pictures and details of each deceased. It reminds me of all the family pictures clustered on my mother’s piano…

Our goal today, Vilharino, is a mystery town, in that it is not listed either on a Google Maps, nor on the signs as we walk. When we get near, there are signs offering three choices of lodging: a monestary, and two hostels. One hostel offered free wifi, sheets, towels and a swimming pool! Guess which one we chose?

The Amadeu Vidal hostel is a private home, and not only did we get to swim in a crystal pool, our host also ran our laundry in his washing machine and hung it up to dry for us! We slept in a suite that contained a full kitchen and dining area, and the charge was ‘donativo’ – whatever we wished to pay. A lovely evening.

A Day in Porto

9/24 – Porto, on the Rio Douro, is a beautiful, vibrant city with lots of blue tile murals depicting its history. Here are some pix from our day.

The open air market:

The train station Estacio de Sao Bento:

The churches:

The riverfront:

The iron bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who also built the Eiffel Tower.

And Jim and Karen out on a beautiful day:


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Tomorrow, back on the trail!

Grijo to Porto

9/23 – 10 miles to Porto, 2nd largest city in Portugal, and full of neat stuff to see. After only getting about 5 hours of sleep, thanks to the mosquitoes, I was feeling a little rocky this morning, but the sun promised to come out today, so off we went.

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Everything was a little soggy, but the old roads were passable, and soon we were approaching the city: image.

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I loved seeing the ruins covered in morning glories!

Our hotel is right in the center of the city, near the Torre Clerico:

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We get free espresso in the morning, and free port wine all day long. Too bad I don’t drink wine!

We walked a little as the sun was setting:

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…and visited the world’s most beautiful bookshop, the Lello Livraria:

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Tomorrow, we’ll rest and see the city!

Sao Joao da Madeira to Grijo

9/22 – 100% rain all day, with 12 miles to cover and hurting ankles. No pix today. Wet boots, wet socks, wet everything! Puddles that covered our boots, slippery cobblestones, drivers going 70 kph and splashing us.

Other drivers slowing down to avoid splashing us, coming to a full stop so we can cross the street. A shopkeeper showing us his tally sheet of all the pilgrims who have come into his store, what countries they are from, and blessing our journey. His wife giving us home made candy, then making sure we each got a second piece. Meeting a fellow pilgrim from Denmark.

We arrived in a very bedraggled state at a new alburgue in Grijo, looking forward to a hot shower and a nap. Because it is new, we’ve seen no reviews, but are optimistic. The hostel has only one toilet, sink and one shower, lots of mosquitos, and no doors on the rooms. We have to sleep in bunk beds, and I have to take the top bunk. There is no soap or towels, so we shower and have to drip dry, and there are no sheets for the beds, so we just open our sleeping bags on the mattresses. The mosquitoes feast on us all night – I wish I still had my bug suit! We got very little sleep.

A day of mixed emotions, but tomorrow we will arrive in Porto!

Oliveira de Azemais to Sao Joao da Madeira

9/21 – with only 6 miles on the agenda today, we took our time with the lovely breakfast and stayed at the 4 star hotel until checkout time. My ankles are giving me grief and are calling for a day off, but it is only two more days to Porto, so we carry on.

Today I especially noticed all the old walls that still define the properties and line the roads here. These walls were made by the hands of men a thousand, or two thousand years ago, and they stand firm and strong, still doing the job they were designed to do. Contrast this with America’s tendency to tear down and rebuild, even when what was there before was perfectly fine. A different way of looking at life.

In the old towns, we see abandoned stone houses with no roof, sharing a wall with freshly stuccoed and painted houses right next door. Same stones, there to reuse and renew…

Sao Joao (that’s St. John) is a big modern town with a mall, and an active center square, buzzing with people out on a Sunday afternoon. Although we are trying to rest my feet, we took a short walk to see the sights. Pope John Paul II seems pretty popular here: image
…and we don’t know what this guy did to get on the wrong side of this lady: image

We checked out our favorite supermarket, the Pingo Doce, and they had grilled chicken in the deli case! Now, frango (chicken) is just something you can’t get in this country. It’s not on the menu at any restaurant, and this is the first time we’ve seen it for sale. When we asked for half a chicken, the deli lady took it out of the case, brushed it all over with Piri Piri hot sauce, and used a big set of shears to cut it up into serving pieces. Then she wrapped it in brown paper and we had our supper! A Sunday treat for Americans!

Albergaria-a-Velha to Oliveira de Azemeis

9/20 – is it my imagination, or do the names of towns get longer as we move north? 13 miles today, doubling back through town to pick up the yellow arrows that mark our path. The sun was out this morning, with about the same sights to see: more dogs, more eucalyptus forest, more little towns. Here’s what the trail looks like the morning after the big rain:

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Yes, that’s not a river, that’s the trail.

Part of our path today was the original Roman road that the medieval pilgrims walked on:

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We came upon a statue of Mary in the middle of nowhere: image
And a shrine to Senhor Jesus: image

When we got into town, we found, for the third day in a row, that the residencial and the pension had gone out of business. I called the tourist info, and the lady suggested that we ask to sleep on the floor at the fire station, which is common practice here for pilgrims in towns with no hostel. Fortunately, this town has a 4 star hotel, and the hotel offered a discount because we are pilgrims. It’s more than we are used to paying here, but it sure beats the floor of the fire station!

So now we are in a king sized bed with extra pillows, a sleek modern bath with little shampoos, and a lavish buffet spread for breakfast. If this isn’t nice, I just don’t know what is!

Agueda to Albergaria-a-Velha

9/19 – only 10 miles to walk today, so we slept in and partook of the hearty breakfast offered by the Residencial Celeste. The walk was easy today, and the sun came out in between the rain clouds, so here are some pictures, lots of flowers of course, and fall harvest:

The day was mostly on asphalt, with an hour walking through a eucalyptus forest. You can see how hard it is to keep the trail marking on trees when the outer bark peels off!

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Dogs here are chained outside, and they wear themselves out barking at every passerby. Here are some watch dogs and a watch cat, with a pig and some sheep thrown in for good measure:

We got in to Albergaria around noon, and spied a large, modern supermarket, so we stopped in for provisions. Once again, as soon as we were safely inside, the skies opened and the rain poured down. We sat in the cafe inside the market, and watched the other pilgrims come in, drenched and dripping. An old woman came up to me and asked if I was a pilgrim, then hugged me and cried and patted my face, asking me in Portuguese to take her prayers with me. I’ve been collecting a lot of prayers to deliver to St. James. If you would like to add a prayer, I’ll be happy to take yours too…

There is no tourist info in this town, so I used the opportunity of being seated and dry to get out my phone to see where we could stay for the night. Once again, the alburgue was out of business, and so was the residencial and the pension. What now? We asked three young Canadians where they were going to stay, and they told us they were fed up with rain, and were taking a bus to Porto. The French don’t speak any English and we don’t speak any French, so we don’t know what they were doing. The Austrians, ever efficient, had pre-booked a room two miles northwest of town via Bookings.com. That looked like the only game in town, so we headed there too.

The Hotel Ribeirotel, painted pink, is in the middle of the industrial zone, on a busy highway. When we asked the price of a room, we were shown the rate sheet: single, double, or “couples by the hour”! Oh dear, another place of ill repute, but there was nothing for it, so here we are in Room 29. It’s clean, there are no mirrors on the ceiling, and the shower is good. And yes, we did watch a lady of the evening plying her trade on the highway across from the entrance.

There was no restaurant, so we crossed the busy highway to get to a mini mercado to buy the makings of sandwiches and beer for an elegant supper in bed, while watching an old Robert Redford movie on TV with Portuguese subtitles. Now, this is living!

Mealhada to Agueda

9/18 – 16 miles today, with grey skies and lots of rain, so no pictures. The walk was mostly flat, and mostly asphalt. At midday, we bought tuna and bread from a mini-market and looked for a place to sit down and eat lunch. We sat under the portico of a church, just before the sky opened up, drenching all the passers by, while we were sheltered from the storm. Pretty neat.

When we reached Agueda, there was a tourist office, so we stopped in for directions to a place to stay. Turned out that the alburgue in our guidebook was closed, and the other residencial in town was “not of good reputation”. We ended up walking another mile and a half off the trail to reach the Residencial Celeste, which is also acting as an alburgue for pilgrims. It had no restaurant, and the rain was pouring down, so the receptionist called Telepizza, and we poor wet pilgrims all had pizza and beer for supper.

We ate with two young women from Germany. Ruth is an IT professional, on six month sabbatical from Bayer Pharmaceuticals, and Annetta is on one month’s holiday from her job as a criminal judge. Annetta brought her little dust mop dog along, thinking she would enjoy walking 20 miles a day on those itty bitty legs. Annetta has to carry the dog and her backpack too!

Of course, their English was excellent, so we had a wonderful conversation about many things. Pilgrims could solve all the world’s problems, if given the chance!

Coimbra to Mealhada

9/17 – back on the road this morning for a 14 mile stretch to Mealhada, known for a local brand of wine, and broiled suckling pig – yes, the whole little piggy, from his little pink head to his little curly tail!

Our walk was mostly flat and went through several small towns. We are getting used to the townsfolk answering our Bom Dia with a Boa Viagem! (Sounds like Bon Voyage, but spelled funny – silent “m”) to which we respond with a thank you. Lots of smiles and encouragement.

My Nice Person of Portugal today is the lady who runs the cafe where we stopped for a mid morning espresso. Whenever we stop for a break, I always use the facilities, as you never know when the next opportunity will be. I didn’t see a WC sign in the cafe, so I asked, thinking maybe it was in the back. In response, the lady motioned me to follow her out the door, and down the street, where she ushered me into her home to use her bathroom! How nice was that?

The town of Mealhada welcomes you with a statue of Baachus, god of wine, and grapevines in the square instead of flowers. By the time we got there, the rain that had been threatening all day, started coming down.image

Our last residencial had very poor wifi – we had to sit on the stairs in the hallway to get any reception – so today Jim suggested we stay at the alburgue. After all, who knows more about the needs of pilgrims? We walked through Mealhada and out the other side, passing pensions and residencials, before finally getting to the alburgue. They were out of private rooms, so we could either stay in the dormitory (16 bunk beds in a row with shared WCs), or walk back through town in the rain. We opted for the bunk beds. Luckily there were only 6 of us, and Jim was the only snorer, so we had a surprisingly restful night.

And no, we did not have suckling pig for supper…

A Day in Coimbra

9/15 – Coimbra is a university town, and the tourist attractions are all on the university grounds, way up at the top of the hill. Students in Coimbra don’t have to worry about the Freshman 15 if they walk up and down these hills every day!
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Our day to see the city happened to be the first day of the fall semester, and the campus teemed with students from the different college majors congregating in the square and trying to outshout and outsing one another. As best we could tell, the poor freshman were being indoctrinated into their respective houses by having to wear bibs or signs around their necks proclaiming their unworthiness, being made to run around the square shouting “I am an Idiot”, and other fun things that will remind you of pledge week at the frat house.image

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The upperclassmen and women all wore long black gowns a la Hogwarts, and we were told that this is the daily dress expectation, not just because it was the first day of class.

We got to peek in the St. Michaels Chapel with its grand pipe organ:image

… and the historic campus library, where there were books over 600 years old. The library is home to a family of bats, who fly around every night and eat the bugs, so that the bugs don’t eat the books. The furniture is covered every evening against the guano, and the place cleaned every morning…image

We also got to peek into the Academic Dungeon, which wasn’t built with tall people in mind. We wondered what crime one had to commit to be remanded there! image

I liked the fancy ceilings:

We ambled around the city, and stopped for lunch at a place that advertised Cheeseburguers. Now that’s something we haven’t had in a while! We ordered two, and should not have been surprised when they were served, no bun, with a slice of ham and a fried egg on top. We asked for ketchup, and were given a tiny packet with not enough ketchup for three French fries. We are citizens of the world and loved these cheeseburgers! Viva Portugal!

Lexi and Emma, here are some pics for you! Love you! image

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