Tag Archives: Nice People of Portugal

Excursion to Bom Jesus do Monte

9/29 – Our guidebook tells us that the most visited place in Portugal is the church of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, which is a one hour bus ride from where we are in Barcelos. As we don’t plan to be back here any time soon, we thought we’d better see it while we’re in the neighborhood.

First, let me confess that I’ve been calling this place Da Bomb Jesus – because it’s gotta be da bomb! So I had to ask for a lesson on proper pronunciation before we set out. As close as I can spell it phonetically, it is called Bon Jay-ZOOSH. The nice lady at the tourist office made me say it three times, and suggested that I open my mouth wider when I speak.

So we caught the 8am bus to Braga, which is the third largest city in Portugal, then caught a local bus to take us to Good Jesus of the Mount. Once there, we had the option of walking up the 400 feet of steps, or taking the only water driven funicular in Portugal, which has been in operation since 1888. We opted to ride up and then walk down.

The funicular consists of two trolley cars. The one at the top is weighted with water, which makes it head downhill, thereby pulling the other one uphill. That explanation was longer than the ride:

Here is the church, which includes a reliquary chapel and the displayed remains of Sao Clemente: image
The altar:
Reliquary chapel, containing bones of saints:
A beautiful Virgin:
Sao Clemente – I can’t find any info on a Portuguese St. Clement, so not sure who this guy might be: image

Continuing up the hill beyond the church is a serenely beautiful park, allowing time for quiet reflection:

The view from the top, through the morning mist: image


The leisurely walk down, which included fountains of the five senses:

Life size dioramas of the passion story:

And lots of statues and steps. Bom Jesus is a pilgrimage site, and penitents walk up the many flights of zig-zag steps on their knees, but we didn’t see any today: image


A beautiful day!

Vilharino to Barcelos

9/27 – 17 miles today will get us to Barcelos. image



Many pilgrims start their journey in Porto, and today, for the first time, we met others walking the same path; Martin from London, a couple from Poland, a man from Hungary, a girl from Germany, and a couple, Patricia and Ray, from Sacramento! We walked with Patricia and Ray into the city, and met for a drink in the evening. So nice to share experiences, and to communicate in English!

For lunch, we stopped at a pilgrim-friendly restaurante where the proprietor’s picture was in our guidebook! We asked him to autograph his photo, and he was happy to oblige.

By 3pm we walked over the bridge into the city: image


Throughout our travels in Portugal, we have encountered the image of a colorful rooster on many shops and souvenirs. Now that we are in Barcelos, here is the story of The Cock of Barcelos:


If you look closely at the cross, you will see St. James holding up the feet of the hanging man.




Tomorrow, a day of rest.

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!

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…

Condeixa-a-Nova to Coimbra

9/14 – Happy birthday to Eliese and Tiare and Eva! Hugs and much love to you!

Today we walked 12 miles into our next big city, Coimbra. The morning walk started out on level ground, so we made great time for the first few hours. Here is our 7am sunrise:


My salute to a Nice Person of Portugal came as we stood at a crossroads with conflicting Caminho arrows; a spray painted one pointing to the left fork, and the more official looking but less reliable municipal sign pointing to the right. A driver pulled up and pointed to the left, assuring us that the hand painted sign was the one to follow. Obrigado to you, sir!

We stopped for an espresso mid-morning, and were delighted and mystified to hear a bagpipe and drums bleating out a lively tune and coming our way. I love a parade! Never did find out what the occasion was, but they stood in front of us and played a merry tune while we clapped encouragement. Then off they went down the street. Do you think all Pilgrims get this reception?


We passed three churches in three towns on this Sunday morning, none of which were open or holding a service. Don’t know what to think about that…


The love put into flower gardens spilling out over walls and fences continues to amaze me. Today I saw lots of purple.

…and a waterfall. image

Before we knew it we were looking down the city of Coimbra:

Here a Roman aqueduct had to be partially destroyed to allow the highway to be built. Thankfully, much of the aqueduct was spared:

At the entrance to the city is the Convento Santa Isabel, erected in honor of the beautiful and kind hearted young queen who gave her riches away to the poor. When her jealous husband tried to catch her in the act, her basket of coins miraculously turned into roses. She is buried here. image




Then the rain came down and we hoofed it over to our residencial (with a balcony!) where we will rest our weary feet and see what the city has to offer for the next few days.

Rabacal to Conimbriga to Condeixa-a-Nova

9/13 – Ave Maria got us out of bed and back on the road. There was no kitchen in the hostel or cafe in town, so we got a sluggish start, but we don’t have far to go today.

We came upon a little hamlet that claimed to have the actual road where St. James had trod, and there we met a lady out walking her three goats. She graciously allowed me to take her picture, and is my Nice Person of Portugal today.

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A Belgian pilgrim named Jacques caught up with us, and he and Jim talked economics and politics for a while. This was his second Caminho, having walked through Belgium, France and Spain two years ago.

We parted ways as we approached the town of Coimbriga, where we detoured to see the oldest Roman ruins in Portugal, where objects have been found dating from the 9th centurny BCE.




I especially liked the intricate mosaic floors of the homes, which were intact and still beautiful after so many years.



One house had patterned swastikas on the floor. I wonder what the symbol signified back then? The excavations began in 1898, and are ongoing.



From Coimbriga it was just a few kilometers to Condeixa, where we are spending the night at Residencial Ruinas. There we saw an artist’s rendering of the House of a Fountains ruin we had just visited, where the fountains still worked. I’m happy to report that it was a very nice place, not the ruin implied by the name!



For supper we found a restaurant that served pasta, and I had fettuccine with Parmesan and chicken – what a treat! We’ve had enough pork and fried potatoes to last us a lifetime…

Ansaio to Rabacal

9/12 – we started to see signs of fall as we hiked our 11 miles today, although the days are still warm: image




We came upon some rabbits, ate some grapes and blackberries off the vine, and just enjoyed the day: image



As we were eating our lunch under a shady tree, an old man came up and started speaking rapidly and gesturing across the road. We tried Bom Dia, and Obrigado, but neither satisfied him. He hustled off, but then came back in a few minutes with a handful of figs that he picked off a nearby tree. Now when we said Obrigado (thank you), his face lit up. Nice people everywhere!

Rabacal is a very small town with one hostel and one cafe. At the hostel we met a young man from Boston named John, and he accompanied us to dinner at the cafe. He has caught the travel bug, and we shared stories of the different places we’ve been. It was nice way to spend the evening.

The town church played A full chorus of Ave Maria every hour and half hour, and we wondered if we would be able to sleep. Mercifully, the bells were silent after 10pm, but woke us promptly at 6!

Golega to Atalaia

9/5 – we walked out of Golega this morning, and ran into this fellow sitting on a bench:

Our guidebook always tells about the historic church in town, but the churches are seldom open. Here’s Golega’s 16th century church: image

As we walked in the early morning, we came upon a little old lady peering down into the dirt beside the road, and occasionally picking something up and tossing it in her shopping bag. When we got close enough to inquire, she showed us a bag full of snails. Sure enough, as we walked along the highway, we could see lots of snails, and picked some up to give to her. Jim asked to take her picture, but she started yelling, so we moved on…



Today our walk is only 7 miles, to the tiny town of Atalaia, which boasts one restaurant, and one very nice B and B.

When we got to Casa do Patriarca a little after noon, we read the sign that said checkin wasn’t until 2, and breakfast would not be served before 8:30. We started to fret, as we really wanted a cool shower, and if we can’t leave at 7am we’ll be walking in the hottest part of the day. Our gracious hostess, Senhora Oliviera, put our fears to rest, saying the sign was for the tourists. We are Pilgrims, and can have whatever we want! And, she ran our laundry through her washer for us! Another Nice person of Portugal!

A note that I may have already mentioned, but no one has electric clothes dryers here. We found this true also in Ireland, Spain and Italy. Even hotels hang their sheets and towels outside to dry.

The B and B has a lovely back garden, and we ate our lunch in the shade:

Now here is a question: we’ve been seeing this fruit tree growing all over, and no one can tell us the name of the fruit. It looks like an apple or a pear, and is edible but not sweet, with an astringency that makes your mouth pucker. We’re told that they are used for making marmalade, but not eaten out of hand. What is it? Eliese?? Anybody??image

For supper we walked to the only restaurant, where we saw this sign in the window:


Now, you know we had to order snails for dinner! Maybe these were the very ones we picked this morning! Jim ordered a snail appetizer, and we expected maybe six snails on a plate. Instead, the waiter brought like a gallon of snails, and some toothpicks. You just stick a toothpick in the shell and haul the little slimer out, then suck the garlic and butter out of the shell. Yum!


Vale de Figueira to Golega

9/4 – we allowed ourselves an hour for the 20 minute walk to the train station this morning, and we needed it! We got turned around and had to retrace our steps, but we got there just in time for the 7:56 am train to resume the Caminho where we left off yesterday. image

A Nice Young Lady of Portugal engaged us in conversation on the train, and was able to explain why we’ve been having so much trouble with the language. Google Translate only gives us Brazilian Portuguese, which can be very different from Portugal Portuguese. We were asking for Trem (for train), when the local word is Ferro. Duh!

Nothing new to report today… more corn, more tomatoes, more peppers. We did spy a patch of pumpkins, and a sunflower field. image


The last 5 miles into Golega was on a busy highway with absolutely no shoulder to walk on. Every time a truck went by I covered my face and hoped for the best. Better routes for pilgrims, please!

The town of Golega is known for horses and there is a great statue at the entrance, in case you had any doubts.image


We stayed at a hotel above a restaurant, and were the only guests! Our room had an ensuite toilet without a door, which was a little weird, but oh well…

For supper, Jim wanted to try a local specialty, so I ordered the same thing. We got plates piled high and overflowing with pork ribs, four different kinds of sausage, tripe, chick peas, cabbage, rice, carrots, potatoes and other things I could not identify. I gave it the old college try, but couldn’t eat half of the serving. Should have taken a pic, because you won’t believe how much food there was – I may never eat again…

Walking gives you lots of time to think, and today I thought about folks back home.

We’ve been keeping up with our boys and grand babies weekly by video call. Emma at 20 months likes to say Hi Gramma, and she always asks to see Grandad, so Jim jumps into the picture and we wave. After that, she may show us a toy, or go off and play, or sit down to color, and we can watch her while we catch up with Peter and Lauren. Not sure what she thinks of us being on the flat screen.

Up until a few weeks ago, Lexi at 3 and a half would say hello, tell us her news from school, sing a song and generally ham it up in Lexi style. Recently, however, she’s become more interested in where we are, asking why we are always calling from bed (at a hotel), why we don’t have a living room, and asked if we were real or just a picture. When I told her we were real, she asked to see the back of my head, as proof that we were three dimensional! Last Sunday, she asked when we were coming home, and if we would come home if she gave us our house back. She asked if we were coming to her birthday party in January. Several times.

Now that it’s September, I think about the start of choir practice, and the start of book study, and the friends who will be starting without me. I think of the folks at the Q and hope they are ready for another holiday season.

So, there is another side to life on the road, and that’s missing the people you love, even though you’re having a wonderful time.

Santarem to Vale de Figueira

9/3 – our original plan for today was to walk 15 miles north, which would give us a short 5 mile walk the following day. Our host Mario suggested a different plan: walk 7 miles north today without our packs, take the train back to Santarem, then reverse the process tomorrow, giving us a 13 mile day. This sounded like a good idea for us, plus it would give Mario another night of our business.

Santarem is a confusing town with many little alleyways, and the maps don’t show all the streets, so we had a challenging time getting out of town in the morning. This is the last time we will see blue arrows for the pilgrimage to Fatima, as those pilgrims are now walking in the opposite direction:


There are several old churches with interesting architecture:




The cathedral had an open square inside, with palm trees growing within!



It was a foggy morning, and the view from the summit of the hill, where the old castle walls stand covered in morning glories, was breathtaking:




We shared the path for a while with Robert, a Pilgrim born in the U.S. but lives in France. Then we were back on dusty sand tracks, looking at today’s crops of peppers, corn, grapes and olive trees:

We reached the sleepy little town of Vale de Figueira by 11, and assumed we would be able to find the train station, either by hearing trains, seeing tracks, reading a sign, or asking helpful townfolk. No such luck! Google Translate gave us the Portuguese for Train Station, but the townfolk looked at us like we were speaking Martian. Then we tried making Choo Choo sounds, but that really didn’t help. Jim determined from our small map that the station was on a different road than the Caminho, but as soon as we turned left, EVERYBODY became a Nice Person of Portugal; pointing, prodding and gesticulating that we were going the WRONG WAY!

We found the station eventually, and in a half hour we were back in Santarem. Here are some of the lovely tile mosaics at the train station:

Tomorrow, we hoist our packs and head for Golega!