Lisbon, Portugal — August 6, 2007 (2nd entry today)

This morning at breakfast there was an older French couple (not as old as I am, however) decked out with backpacks, hiking poles, and a clam shell hanging from each backpack. They were obviously pilgrims about to set out from Lisbon to walk the Camino de Santiago portugués. We exchanged a few pleasantries in French, and I wished them a buen Camino as they left.

I took my bike out for a ride around the city today, and I quickly found out why there are so few cyclists or even casual bike riders in Lisbon. The city’s very steep seven hills are real killers to any vehicle that isn’t powered by a motor. I have to admit that I pushed my bike up two one-block stretches of hill today despite my touring bike’s sissy low gearing.

The city is experimenting with rental electric bikes in an attempt to attract people out of their cars who don’t have the guts or low enough granny gears to pedal up these hills. I don’t think it will work. It is not easy to convince a city with no cycling culture that its inhabitants should leave their cars at home and cycle for transportation.

Before I left, I found that some adjustments needed to be made on the bike. I’m used to new bikes whose adjustments can almost all be made with a few allen wrenches, a screwdriver, and perhaps a torx wrench. However, I discovered that two brake blocks on my old Trek touring bike had come lose and my multi-tool would not work to fix them. I needed a real wrench.

Luckily, the man working the front desk here at the hostel had access to a tool kit. There were no wrenches small enough to fit the nuts on my brakes, but there was a set of electrician’s pliers that did the job.

I only put one pannier and the handlebar bag on the  bike. I quickly got the hand of cycling in Lisbon traffic. Until 2014, it was illegal to ride a bike on the street here, but since then, drivers seem to have gotten used to sharing the road with cyclists. Drivers are required by law to give cyclists 1.5 meters (5 feet) of clearance when passing. Unlike in most parts of the USA, motorists here actually do make sure there is plenty of clearance when passing a bike. When stuck behind me as I was laboring uphill, drivers were patient enough to wait until it was safe to pass.

I found that the most scenic area to cycle is along the river waterfront.  Here’s a shot that shows a boat tied up on the river. The reddish path in the foreground is a cycle path. (Lisbon reportedly has over 100 miles of cycle path, most of it barely used.)

Below is a shot of an areal cable car that parallels the river. If you click on the photograph to enlarge it, you won’t see a single cyclist despite that fact that this is a designated  bike route and I snapped the picture on a warm, sunny Sunday morning when you’d expect people to be out for a leisurely waterfront ride.

The picture that follows shows part of the Vasco da Gama complex with a shopping center on the left and an apartment building rising behind the iron sculpture. There was a Vasco da Gama tower on the right, but when I photographed it, I got my finger in front of the lens. I don’t think anyone wants to see a picture that includes one of the body parts of a 75-year-old man, so I’m not putting that one in the blog.

By the way, do you remember from your high school history class who Vasco da Gama was?

Tomorrow morning I catch the train for Porto, and in a few days I start my cycling trip toward Santiago de Compostela, Spain