Day 22 – Familiar Faces

Starting Point: Amarante
Ending Point: Braga
Today’s Distance: 64 km
Total Distance: 1,451 km

As a general rule, I try to be on the road between 7:00am and 8:00am, but the earliest I could get breakfast at this quaint inn was 8:15am. Having heard good things about it, I decided to sleep in a bit and start my day a little later. The breakfast was good, but I was also excited to get moving; this afternoon I would be meeting my boyfriend and two other friends in Braga! Once I finally got on my way, my first stop was to fill up my water bottles at a public fountain right next to my lodging — yet another medieval element to this whimsical little fairytale of a town.

That fairytale image, however, was about to get rocked. I crossed over the famous Amarante bridge and past the Igreja de São Gonçalo to leave the old city and immediately entered the hectic mass of rush hour traffic. The transition felt almost like culture shock, the contrast was so stark. Now I was amongst heaps of traffic with uncaring drivers and a cacophony of noise. I missed the peaceful Douro river which kept me company the previous morning. No longer was I stopping to take photos; my only thought was getting out of the city. The only exception I made was to get a shot of this cool abandoned furniture factory. It wasn’t especially beautiful per se, but it had a certain “je ne sais quoi” feel about it.

I fought my way through the traffic like an elementary student trying to make her way through a crowded high school hallway. The drivers here were certainly less courteous than my experiences elsewhere in Portugal. Many drove past extremely closely and at great speed. The law in Portugal states that drivers are required to leave 1.5 m of space between themselves and any cyclists, but that certainly wasn’t being obeyed here. When cars drive too closely, I don’t shout or make obscene gestures, but I will shake my head or even give a stern finger wag from time to time. Today I was shaking my head a lot.

Finally, the traffic thinned out to a more manageable level and the vineyard-strewn countryside showed its face more often. As the traffic thinned farther, my mood grew higher, and I started taking more photos and generally enjoying the ride more. Eventually I made it to my midday stop: Guimarães. UNESCO considers Guimarães an “exceptionally well-preserved and authentic example of the evolution of a medieval settlement into a modern town.” I can understand why there are is so much pride in what some call “the birthplace of Portugal”.

Guimarães

Instinct pulled me towards wandering all over this beautiful town, but hunger was a stronger influence and led me to find a restaurant for lunch. I was craving a meal in a cozy, little, hole-in-the-wall kind of place, and soon I found just the spot. Small entrance, dark interior, cozy and comforting, this place fit the bill perfectly. The interior walls were decorated with broken pottery giving an even more charming feel to the joint. I sunk in and enjoyed both the ambiance and my lunch of Bacalhãu. Bacalhãu is the Portuguese word for cod fish and almost always refers to dishes made with dried and salted cod in particular. There are said to be over 1,000 different recipies and ways of preparing Bacalhãu, and it is commonly made for special occasions and especially Christmas Eve in certain parts of the country. Today it was precisely the kind of delicious comfort food I needed.

Refueled and recharged, I went to see some of the historic sites around Guimarães. First I made my way to the Paço dos Duques de Bragança / Palace of the Dukes of Bragas, a medieval palace with a complicated history that’s worth a quick read. At various points it served as a palace, fortress, barracks, ruins, and eventually rock quarry before being restored back to a palace again in the early 1900’s. It is now a museum today. Next was the Castle of Guimarães. I didn’t spend much time there – admittedly, I have seen a lot of castles already on this trip – but the sawtooth battlements looked particularly classic; the kind of traditional castle that one pictures when they close their eyes.

While wandering through the Praça de São Tiago, I received word that my friends were on their train, so I hopped onto Shaka and was soon on my way to meet them in Braga. Guimarães is a beautiful town that certainly deserves a few days of exploration, but it was going to have to wait — my boyfriend, Cláudio, and friends, Adrian and António, were inbound.

Praça de São Tiago

It seemed like all the roads north out of Guimarães led to Braga, and, after my battle with the traffic this morning, I decided to try and take more backroads and smaller streets. Abstract shell symbols on small signs next to directional arrows started popping up here and there. These guideposts marked the way of the Camino de Santiago, the famous pilgrimage that runs from locations all over Europe to the city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The Camino, as it is called for short, and its scallop shell symbol, are both fascinating and I highly recommend taking a quick read through the history of both.

At one point, while cruising down a small country road, it turned into cobblestones and eventually a footpath. This had the opportunity to go one of two ways: either it was going to be an extremely pleasant ride through the country, completely free of cars and full of pleasant views, or it was going to devolve farther into a maze of poorly labeled farming paths, forcing me to backtrack and find an alternative way to go. I rolled the dice and continued on, trying to take the shortest route to Braga. Before long, I admittedly became a bit lost. Out amongst the farms surrounding Braga, I routinely stopped to check Google Maps and try to figure out the best way forward. At my most stressed, I noticed that flies had started to swarm around and land on me, much like my second day of this trip. Can insects sense vulnerability and stress when you’re at your worst? I feel like my worst moments of these trip always involve swarms of some kind ofbugs.

I worshipped at the altar of the tiny blue dot, otherwise known as my location on Google Maps, and eventually decided to heads towards a café that appeared to be nearby, logic being that if there is a café, it must be on some kind of bigger road. My logic proved correct and with a bit of rerouting, I was back on my way to see my friends without losing too much time in the whole endeavor.

Even in the most trying of times, seeing happy flowers on the side of the road always cheered me up

I was back on the road to Braga but I still had a significant hill to climb before making it to my destination. By this point of the trip, my legs had honed into powerful and efficient machines that no longer complained about the increased effort, but the road conditions were far from optimal, and large cracks and potholes marred the already splotchy pavement. At one point I stopped to have a sip of water and heard a loud pack of barking dogs rush out against their fence, yelling at the gall I had to drink water in front of their yard. It seemed like there were more dogs like these in the north of Portugal, though that may just be because the region is more populated than elsewhere I’ve been on this trip.

Pushing through the climb, I reached the climax of the hill and had a lovely descent into Braga down the opposite side. I was beyond excited to not only see some familiar faces but to spend an entire day off with them as well. Surprisingly, I had beat them to our shared Air BnB, even after all of my country road rambling. Soon they arrived, and the reunion warmed my heart. The next day was a rest day to relax, explore, and just enjoy some time with friends in a beautiful locale. After cycling just shy of 1,500 km in three weeks’ time, I felt like I had definitely earned it.

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