Thursday, December 27, 2007


We started driving 'early' today, with the objective of finding a hotel a few hours southeast of Torreira, checking in, and then going for an extended bike ride. We picked the Beiras Mountains as our general destination, but the route was was almost immediately too complex for navigation using the pathetic little map that we had. So, we caved in and bought a map; three, in fact. This was helpful for navigation, but did nothing to help decifer the signage. We discovered already that the numbers on the side of the road can't possibly be the speed limit, since they bear no relation to the speed at which the cars drive. We also discovered that a red circle with two cars in it means 'no passing', while a black circle with two cars in it and a black line through it means 'not no passing'. But what is a black circle with a strike through nothing inside? No nothing? Anything goes?
We arrived in Sortelha around 1pm and scouted out accommodation. Instead of hotels, this town relies upon turismo rural, which are essentially historic b&bs. We spotted a sign for the Casa de Cerca and turned in to find a basic granite-based historic home with the door open. Nobody was to be found and the the building next door was abandoned, with practically a jungle growing inside. An old lady was walking by and I jokingly suggested that erik ask her where we could check in. He responded 'old people don't know other languages'. We were wrong. It turns out the lady is a Viscountess and owns three casas in the town, including the one at which we will be staying, and speaks at least four languages. She confirmed that we could stay the night and within minutes (portugese minutes), we were on our bikes exploring the area. As good as the mas that we bought are, there is nothing shown for the area except for the main road that brought us here.
Erik wanted to go 'up', so we did. Up a cobblestone road to one edge of town and surprisingly to the start of what turned out to be great network of mountain-bike-worthy double and single track. The landscape would be similar to northern california or nevada, except with stone houses and fences thrown in at wide intervals. In contrast to the old-style living these represented were giant windmills that laced practically all of the hill tops. Erik wanted to explore every nook and cranny, and we eventually ran out of trail riding up to see some windmills. We ditched the bikes and went on foot, checking out some abandoned stone houses along the way. Good fix-er-uppers for sure. It was a good hour and a half walking and climbing around in our bike shoes over huge rocks and through tall grass. It was an adventure. Each ride on this trip has reinforced my belief that there is no better way to see a place than by bicycle, and today was no exception. So many cool places are inaccessable by vehicle - or by foot alone.
After we arrived back in 'town', we rode up to the town castle and the fortified part of the city. Obidos was cool, but this takes the cake. Slightly less restored and impacted by tourism. No wonder EuroDisney flopped. Who needs to pay 75 bucks to see mickey's enchanted castle, when you can see the real deal for free!
We made it back to our place just as the last ray of sunlight disappeared. We are the only guests at this place tonight. The old lady had to call someone to come and make the beds and clean up for our arrival. Our room has a view of the town castle, which you can see from the granite seats carved into the window sill. We went for dinner at a small stone walled restaurant in the fortified city. The food was magnificent. Today will cost about 100 euro to stay in what is probably the most expensive spot in town (and which we have entirely to ourselves) and to dine at the best restaurant in town. Not bad, considering it cost $230 to crash at the Holiday Inn for one night when I was snowed in at the Toronto Airport only a week and a half ago. This place is fantastic. Why Portugal isn't a top destination for more peole is beyond me. We have graduated to two bottles of wine per night, so I can see that my cost of living might increase after some time here, but slurred English sounds a little like Portugese, so there might be a valuable side effect to balance it out.


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