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I’m putting together a new book, and this will be the last chapter. (Chapter 14.) The book – “(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age” – will end with an episode from my last overseas adventure. The last chapter will be, “They sell beer at the McDonald’s in Portugal!”
Which I thought pretty noteworthy.
That was back in September 2019.That’s when my brother, his wife and I hiked the Portuguese Camino. So this post (chapter) continues my last post on the hike: Here’s that second post on the Portuguese Camino. (Chapter 13 in the book.) And incidentally, the photo atop the page shows the “Douro river and Dom Luís Bridge,” near sunset. (Courtesy of Wikipedia.) The morning we left Porto we hiked west, right under that same Dom Luis Bridge.
We were headed off on a 150-mile (or so) hike to Santiago, partly by way of the Coastal Camino Route. That’s the “stunning and very scenic alternative route to the classic Portuguese Camino. Starting in colorful UNESCO-listed Porto this Camino trail will take you to charming seaside towns and villages in Northern Portugal, along the superb Atlantic Coast.”
But of course – being generally “contrary” – we only went part way up the Coastal Route. We left Porto Monday, September 2. We hiked the Coastal Route for two days and got to Vila do Conde the afternoon of Tuesday, September 3. From there we “shunted over to the main Portuguese Route and headed north from there,” that is, north from Barcelos.
My last post – “Second Portuguese” – gave an overview of the trip, noting how we got up as far as Ponte de Lima. And again, that’s about a third of the way up to Santiago. For this “chapter” – blog post – I’ll quote some Facebook posts I did on the way. (At or near the event in question.)
And again, I’ll end this book with the dramatic discovery, “they sell beer at the McDonald’s in Portugal!” Which is something I didn’t learn until we got to the “McDonald’s – Ponte de Lima.” So as in “Greetings from the Portuguese Camino,” I’ll end this chapter at Ponte de Lima.
Which means I’ll have to write at least one sequel…
So, to “start at the very beginning, a very good place to start,” here’s a list of the days and dates in question, beginning with the day we left Porto:
Monday, September 2: First day, from Porto to Cabo do Mundo, we hiked nine miles, to Casa Velha. (10.8 miles according to Tom’s calculations.) Early in the morning I wrote, “Today we left Porto behind, kinda. Our first stop came 90 minutes and three and a half miles from our start at the Cathedral. [I had] OJ and a very rich, chocolatey [dessert-like] thing. I figured I earned it.”
We hiked west along the Douro, on the Porto side, then hit the Atlantic and swung north. It’s a less traveled scenic alternative to the main Camino Portuguese. “Lots of beachside resorts, bathing beauties, and of course some old pot-bellied guys in speedos.”
I took a picture of the boardwalk section, winding along the shore, then posted:
First days hike is history. West through Porto – with shady spots and sidewalk cafes – and out to the coast. Then north. Made Cabo do Mundo, 10.8 miles. Nothing too sore. Good first hike.
Tuesday, September 3: The second day we hiked 10.2 miles to Vila do Conde, and the Hotel Brazao. I took pictures of the morning and early afternoon beachside, much of it along a boardwalk. Once we reached Vila do Conde, we left the Coastal Route and started heading east and north, over towards the main Camino Portuguese. I wrote, “Near the end of the day we negotiated a closed-in foresty place, with a narrow two-lane cobblestone road with LOTS of cars whizzing by, on the way to Vila do Conde.”
The following morning, September 4, I posted:
Good morning from Vila do Conde, Portugal. Yesterday we hiked 10.2 miles, from Cabo do Mundo to Vila do Conde. The pictures show the last stretch before we got to the bridge into town. No more beachside vistas, we’re on the main Camino now, not the scenic side route. Today a mere six miles, so we’re pillaging a bit.
That “pillaging” came from the auto-correct on my tablet. The same feature that changed each “do” or “de” – common in Portuguese – to “Dr.” Every stinkin’ time! So it had me “pillaging” instead of “lollygagging,” like I wrote. I added that tomorrow we had “a 13 mile hike, then a day off Friday. My feet aren’t TOO sore, and the 15 pound pack is pretty much adjusted, strap-wise. And that’s ‘lollygagging’ a bit. No pillaging so far…”
The Hotel Brazao in Vila do Conde was the last place on the Coastal Route for us. Google Maps said it was 6.6 miles to Villa d’Arcos, but “we” figured 6.3.
Wednesday, September 4: This morning, as we got ready to head out again, I saw a van taking luggage for some other “pilgrims” ahead to their next stop. Which meant all they had to carry – hiking – was a day pack. Not the pack we carried, 10 percent of body weight. (In my case 15 pounds.) That “10%” pack held all our worldly goods, for the duration of the hike. Tom calls the light day-packs “pansy packs.” (He actually used another, more earthy epithet, but I figure this book is family oriented.) And I wrote on Facebooke about “wussie – boys who don’t want to ‘pack their own gear.’ WIMPS! What the hell kind of pilgrimage is that?”
You know, without the sore feet, the aching back and such?
Anyway, because we had some time – a mere 6.3 mile hike to Villa d’Arcos – we did some touristy stuff in the morning. We visited the Museu de Construção Naval (Shipbuilding Museum), and also parts of the Convent of Santa Clara
The Convent of Santa Clara was closed but the Cathedral next door was open. It was there Tom made a “new bestest buddy Fernando – from the cathedral,” who “bent his ear for a good long time, much of it in indecipherable Portuguese.” I took a great picture of them as they chatted, with a view from the hilltop, with the river and ocean in the background.
We ended the day at Villa d’Arcos. It’s not a city. It’s a four-star hotel at Rua da Alegria 38. “From there we hike to Barcelos tomorrow. Tom booked the Hotel Bagoeira for two nights.” Villa d’Arcos is a shade over six miles from Vila do Conde, but as noted we got a late start. I took pictures of the aqueduct in Vila do Conde, “and some narrow streets like we had to hike through today.” And the Villa d’ Arcos itself was a “nice swanky place with a mini-bar in my room, and a local-color cafe down the road to eat. (A light snack. We had a heavy meal on the road.) So tomorrow we’ll be joining up with the main Camino hereabouts.”
Not much of a hike, mile-wise, but a “dearth of Camino signs. Plus lots of narrow walled-in streets, roads, lanes, alleys, whatever to negotiate. But we ended up in a Happy Place, with a beautiful sun setting in the west… And the morning and the evening were the third day,” of hiking that is. (See Genesis 1:13.) “Tomorrow 13 miles…”
Thursday, September 5: We stopped for lunch in Pedra Furada, “after a LOOONG stretch of nary a place to stop, in between here and Villa d’Arcos where we started.” We’d hiked about eight of the day’s total 13 miles before finding a place to stop for lunch. (We’d gotten up and started early.) During lunch I posted this on Facebook, with a picture I took of a fellow pilgrim:
Good 12:30 noonish from Pedra Furada, Portugal. We’re headed to Barcelos and a day off tomorrow, after a 13-mile hike today. Only one Super Bock for lunch, plus a cheese and tomato sandwich. I followed up the cerveza with a Lipton Pessego iced tea. [Thirsty.] Outside the front door a fellow Caminista spritzes his bald head with sunscreen, fixin’ to head north.
Friday, September 6: To clarify, we checked in for our first day off on Thursday, September 5. Friday, September 6 was that day off, and we enjoyed the sites of Barcelos and nearby Braga. Braga is home of the “Bom Jesus do Monte” church. (“Good Jesus of the Mount.”) It was quite a sight from the top of that mountain. Then we hit the road again Saturday, September 7.
That pretty much became the pattern. Four days hiking, increasing the number of miles hiked per day, with the fourth day ending after a long day’s hike. So we hiked 13 miles on September 5 and reached Hotel Bagoeira in Barcelos for our first day off. On September 6 we did some sightseeing, including a bus trip to Braga. A beautiful city, especially in the center square. Lots of marigolds and churches. But in the middle of that bus trip I had some business to attend to.
I originally booked a train back from Santiago – once the hike was over – to spend two nights in Lisbon before leaving for home. Then I changed my mind and figured it’d be better to spend one of those nights in Porto. So after the 45-minute bus trip to Braga, we split up and went our separate ways. I went to change my Comboios (train) ticket, back from Porto to Lisbon, and in the process had a 1:00 lunch of Portuguese lasagna. “Very cheesy, filled with hunks of ham, and VERY good.” Once I’d changed the tickets I posted this on Facebook:
Quite the “Mission Accomplished!” this morning. For various reasons I wanted to change my return trip plans to spend one more night in Porto and not two nights in Lisbon. But the 9/23 ticket was already paid for. Long story short, I had my was of Euros read to pay the 56.50, but the nice clerk said, “No no, same price, you already paid!”
That wasn’t supposed to be “was of Euros.” It was another example of my tablet’s “stupid autocorrect.” What I meant to say was “wad of Euros.”
Which brings up a good point. Both here and in Israel (back in May) I was often in the situation of not knowing the right rate of exchange, and so could have been easily cheated. But in general both store clerks and public officials were very attentive, and honest. Like the guy who exchanged my ticket and saw my “wad of Euros.” He could have said to himself, “I’ve got a dumb American sucker on my hands!” And charged me the 56.50 Euros, then pocketed it. Much like the guy I bought that “Tapazino” from on my first morning in Jerusalem. I was pleasantly surprised by all this, but of course wouldn’t want to make a habit of it…
After changing train tickets I had had some time before meeting up with the others, so I figured the “Mission Accomplished” warranted a celebratory cerveza. I stopped at a cafe around the corner from the Comboios station. I posted two pictures, one a selfie of me in a state of happy bliss, and one of the passing scene I was looking at.
Later we met up and took another bus ride, up to the top of a nearby mountain to see that “Bom Jesus do Monte.” Quite a site. I took quite a few pictures. After that we stopped at a sidewalk café in the Braga’s city center, with lots of beautiful fountains. Then took the 45 minute bus ride back to Barcelos. It felt good to be sitting instead of hiking. I ended the day posting, “Tomorrow we get back to hiking, a ‘mere’ ten miles, not the 13 that did a job on my feet.”
Saturday, September 7: This day we ended up at Casas da Quinta da Cancela. (Expedia says it’s in Barcelos, but it’s actually Balugaes.) If you check on Google Maps, you’ll see a large complex surrounded by a high stone wall. With no sign – on the N308 part of the Camino – to indicate how to get in. Carol wrote this later, once we got back, to accompany some photos:
After you walked ten plus miles for the day, then comes the fun (and most times agonizing) job of searching for the hotel. I am uncertain of how much land the villa had but it was surrounded by this rock wall in its entirety. On the opposite end of this wall (guessing three or four acres) was the Camino we came in on. There is a gate in the rock wall that went to the villa, but no sign to indicating such. We walked up and down the Camino [N308] numerous times looking for it. Finally [she and I] parked ourselves on a corner while Tom went down a couple of blocks. He ran into group of men and one offered to give him (backpack and all) a ride on his motorcycle to it. Tom declined and another man walked us to it. Many times, you rely on the kindness of strangers during your journey.
Which is true. The entrance is on the other side of the complex, away from the N308.
And as to finding the entrance to what turned out to be a lovely Quinta da Cancela, with separate small villas for rent, here’s what I wrote: “That’s where we had a hell of a time finding the entrance. It’s a big walled-in space with the entrance on the other side of the N308 that runs through – actually is – the Camino in that stretch.” I too noted “Tom had to walk down to the intersection with the N204 and ask directions. There was only one restaurant in that one intersection town (Balugaes), the Cantinho dos Sabores.”
That’s where we ate once we got checked in and “refreshed.” I added, “The food was pretty good, but as I remember the service was pretty slow. But there was beer…”
In fact the service was so slow that by the time we got back it was way after dark, and the gate by the N308 was locked. We had to climb over a chest-high stone wall. Tom climbed over first and tried to unlock the gate from the inside. No luck. So I had to “assist” Carol over the wall, then climb over myself. (“And no one to take a video!”)
Sunday, September 8: Today we reached Casa Límia in Ponte de Lima, a third of the way on our hike, but where this book will end. (I’ll be writing a sequel.) One thing I noted on Facebook:
Greetings from Ponte de Lima, Portugal. Sorry about the lapse, but the Wi-Fi yesterday evening sucked. This morning at 10:10 I was hiking along listening to my iPod Shuffle, and a very old sermon by Father Paul came on.
“Father Paul” used to be the priest at our Episcopal church. I’m not sure how his sermon got on my iPod Shuffle, but likely it was from the time I volunteered three mornings a week. I did quite a bit of work on the church Office Mac, and had an account to download music. Father Paul also persuaded me to update the parish newsletter and website, after I mentioned I had a Master’s Degree in Journalism. And working the parish website is what gave me the experience and impetus to get into blogging. Which is how I came to write this book…
So anyway, in his sermon he talked about the lousy winter weather on that long-ago Sunday, and about dreaming of days at the beach, and about one time having a casting net. From there he went to some fisherman-Apostles “dropping their nets,” then getting on with REAL life. It made sense listening to the sermon, but it’s hard to translate all that into a short blurb in this chapter. But I did note that “I got a few chuckles hiking along the dry dusty Camino.” And I thought it appropriate to hear this reprise sermon on a Sunday; I’d been routinely listening to my music on the hike and hadn’t heard it before. (“A message from God?”)
I posted on Facebook that we’d made 11 [plus] miles, “complete with an iPod Shuffle sermon from Father Paul, from a few winters ago. And had a helluva time finding this rental place. (Which seemed to happen quite a lot.)” For the second day in a row we had a tough time finding the night’s lodging; in this case, the one in Ponte de Lima. But there was a reward to come…
I added that “we busted ass today. And my sore feet can prove it!”
So about 8:00 p.m. we were on our way out to dinner at the nearby McDonald’s, “sore feet and all – and got invited to a ‘porch’ party.” There were two other couples in the three-story Casa, as I recall. They all spoke limited English, but were nice enough to share some of their libations. We accepted, then went off to the McDonald’s. It was there – at the fancy-schmancy kiosk – that I saw that they did indeed sell beer, along with Big Macs, etc. Later I posted:
We had dinner at McDonald’s, with a couple cervezas for me. Then a nightcap – or so we thought – at a bar up the street. Then ran into the party-goers from earlier, staying at the same complex. They FORCED us to have some dessert and “grava” on the way in. I suppose there’s a lesson there: Bust your ass and get rewarded – in some indirect way. BUEN CAMINO! Or, “the Camino provides!” I suppose there’s a lesson there somewhere …
In other words the party-goers we’d met on the way out were still there partying on the porch when we got back. “AND A GOOD TIME WAS HAD BY All!”
So Ponte de Lima is now known – to me anyway – as where I found out that “they sell beer at the McDonald’s in Portugal.” And where we got invited to a “porch party.” And for those who may be interested, that McDonald’s is at “Rua Salvato Feijo 17,” in Ponte de Lima.
Monday, September 9: That’s the day we headed off to Rubiães, but that and the rest of the hike’s adventures will be the subject for my upcoming Sequel…
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The lower image is courtesy of Rubiaes Camino – Image Results. It’s accompanied by an article, The Journey from Within, which included an interesting experiment that pilgrim noted, on being oblivious in everyday life. The experiment involved a “fiddler” at a major-city metro station, who played the violin while reporters observed and recorded by-passer response:
In the 45 minutes that the fiddler played, more than 1,100 people walked by, but only seven (!) stopped for at least a minute to enjoy the performance. When asked upon exiting the station, many people didn’t even recall their path crossed a musician, only a few feet away.
It turned out the man, “in jeans and t-shirt, was Joshua Bell, one of the best violinists in the world.” His normal rate of pay? “$1,000 a minute. That day at the metro, playing an incredibly difficult piece on one of the most valuable violins ever made bought Bell a total of $32.17 in donations.”
Again, a lesson there. “Stop and smell the frikkin’ roses!” And the link in the main text is to 4. From Ponte de Lima to Rubiães – Camino de Santiago.