Day 23 – Day Off in Braga
Starting Point: Braga
Ending Point: Braga
Today’s Distance: 0 km
Total Distance: 1,451 km
I love days off while on long cycling trips. Don’t get me wrong – in my day to day life, I love every moment I get to go out and ride – but on these long trips, the days off feel luxurious and well earned. Today felt even grander since I got to spend the entire day with my boyfriend, Cláudio, and our two friends, Adrian and António.
After sleeping in and enjoying a nice breakfast together, our first goal was to make it to Bom Jesus do Monte, a famous religious sanctuary. Some have called Braga “the Rome of Portugal” due to the large number of historic and religious sites it contains. The Bom Jesus do Monte, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is on top of a hill overlooking the city, and its most notable features are a wide, 582-step Baroque staircase that leads up to a large church. Along the staircase are a series of fountains, each of which depict one of the five senses; one statue has a carving with water coming from the eyes, another from the nose, and so on and so forth. I am sure it was very inspiring to the religious pilgrims who visited here for hundreds of years, but a statue with weeping eyes or ears is a bit unsettling today.
Even better than exploring the area ourselves, we had two local guides to help show us around. Luís (a fellow cyclist) and his daughter Anna Luís share a mutual friend with me back in Lisbon who put us in contact. They showed us the funicular, a counter-weighted tram that takes passengers up and down the hill. Two cars on parallel tracks are connected together by a wire. The car at the top station is loaded with water into a tank underneath, increasing its weight so it rolls down the hill which in turn pulls the car at the lower station up to the top. The water is then emptied out of the bottom car and water is loaded into the new car on top, when the whole process begins again. It’s an easy and clever system that was the first of its kind when it was constructed in 1882.
A naturally appearing but manmade wishing well and pond rounded out our visit to what is called the most photographed location in Portugal.
With Luís’ offer to show us more, we all piled into his car and explored onwards. First, Luís wanted to show us a magic trick of sorts. There is a road not far from where we were where objects appear to roll uphill. No mysticism or strange magnets are needed, just the trick of forced perspective. Another road runs parallel to the magic road but goes down the hill at a steeper angle, making it appear that the magic road goes uphill when it really leads downhill, just less downhill than the other. It’s a fun trick.
Next stop was Sameiro. Others had recommended this spot to me and I thought it was just a good miradouro / overlook, but actually, it was a whole complex of buildings. There was an impressive paved miradouro, yes, where it felt like you could touch the sky and the city at the same time, but there were a large church, restaurants, and art installations to look at as well.
We thanked Luís and Anna Luís for being such gracious guides and headed back to our lodging. An afternoon nap was in order before we took on our next project, this one a culinary tradition from this part of the country. The Francesinha is a croque-monsieur inspired sandwich and a modern tradition in the Porto region. A cured ham sandwich covered in melted cheese, the whole sandwich, and typically the traditional accompanying French fries, are smothered in a creamy sauce and topped with a fried egg. Portuguese chefs are very defensive of their recipes, and the sauces vary from restaurant to restaurant.
Stuffed from our sandwiches, the night was topped off in the same way all the best nights in Portugal are, with wine. A full day spent with good friends was precisely what I needed. Today was the perfect day in Braga. One part exploring the area, one part laughter with friends, one part preparing for the last seven days of my cycling adventure in Portugal!