I left Ponte de Lima, Portugal yesterday before 7 am thinking that I had a rough road ahead of me. The road between Ponte Lima and Rubiães crosses a mountain pass, and I had been warned that the climb was very tough. That turned out to not be the case. The road did climb for kilometer after kilometer, but the climb was gradual, and there was very little traffic. The N201 is a national highway, but there is now a limited-access highway running almost parallel to it, which takes most of the north-south traffic. In case anyone else is contemplating cycling the N201, below is a picture of what it looked like. I snapped the picture after crossing the pass over the mountains.
Breakfast was served at the hostel at 8:30 am, which was much too late for me. I arranged he night before for a sack breakfast to be waiting for me at the reception desk, and I ate it before leaving the hostel just before 7 am. It wasn’t much, so after riding over the pass, I stopped at a café for some coffee, without which I have a difficult time starting my day. Here’s what the café looked like from the outside. It was before Rubiãs, just after I had enjoyed a long downhill descent from the mountains.
If it looks like a farmer’s café out in the countryside, that’s exactly what it was. Of course, there was no chance that anyone there spoke English, but I managed to get by in my basic Portuguese and finally get a café americano.
In Rubiãs itself, I stopped again for another cup of coffee and a second breakfast. After I ordered in Portuguese, the man behind the counter responded in perfect English.
Below is a picture of what the “countryside” looked like after I got out of the mountains. While crossing the mountains, I really did feel that I was out in the countryside in the middle of the woods, but the lowland areas are very built up.
It was too early when I arrived in Rubiães to stop, so I decided to continue to Valença, the last city on the Portuguese side of the Spanish border. I passed through the town of Pedreira when I had a decision to make. The map showed the N201 curving to the left and joining the highway N13, which looked on the map like an important highway and could be carrying heavy traffic. The map also showed a rural road, which not only promised to be quieter but also shorter.
I’ve learned not to trust Portuguese farm roads. They are usually paved with cobblestones, have incredibly steep hills, and turn into dirt tracks without warning. So, I decided to get some local advice about whether the road was passable on a heavily-burdened road touring bike.
I spotted two gentlemen and asked them if they spoke English. They told me that they did. They didn’t! So, in basic Portuguese I asked them if the rural road to Valença was doable on my bike. They said that the road didn’t go to Valença and that I would have to take the main highway. That wasn’t what the map showed. Then they told me they would get a man who spoke better English. He didn’t! However, he did know the road and told me in Portuguese slowly enough for me to understand that the road was perfectly suited to my bike and added information about which turns to take. That turned out to be true. The road was perfect for cycling.
Just to prove I did make it to Valença, I took this picture at the city limits.
I decided that rather than stay in Valença, I would cycle across the bridge to its sister city, Tui in Spain. Here’s a picture of the bridge. There is a second bridge for the freeway a bit to the left of this one.
As you can see, there was no room for cars to pass me as I cycled across the bridge, but that wasn’t necessary. Traffic was slow enough that I was able to keep pace with the cars in front of me. In any case, motorists in this part of the road respect cyclists’ right to the road and are willing to follow a cyclist for a considerable distance waiting for a chance to pass.
The municipal pilgrim’s hostel in Tui is located behind this Roman style cathedral shown below. It was only noon, and I was early, so I was sure of getting a bunk. No! It wasn’t noon. When I had cycled across the bridge, I had also cycled into a different time zone. It was 1 pm in Spain.
The Camino must be very busy, the señora at the reception desk pointed to a sign saying completo, full. I asked her which pilgrim’s hostel she would recommend, and she touted the Alberque Villa de San Clemente. I asked her if she thought there was room, and she offered to phone ahead for me.
I’m glad that she did, because when I arrived here, the door was locked and there was a sign outside reading completo. Not again? However, I rang the bell several times, and finally a man opened the door. I mentioned that I was the cyclist that the Municipal Hostel had phoned him about, and he invited me in. He had saved me a bed. Like most Spanish, he was very friendly and greeted me as if I were an old friend.
This hostel is pretty snazzy and very spacious. Here’s a picture of the garden behind it or the “back yard,” as we Americans would call it. The path leading to the back in lined with large stone statues.
Yesterday was a religious holiday of some sort in Tui. I don’t know what was celebrated, but just before sunset there was a large procession of inhabitants, all carrying candles. They were proceeded by a band playing bagpipes and drums, very related to Irish and Scottish music and in tune with the Gaelic roots of this part of Spain, called Galicia. Later in the procession four men carried a life-sized statue of a religious figure.
I’m uploading this blog entry before leaving Tui. I don’t know how far I will cycle today. I only have two weeks left before my plane leaves from Madrid, and I would like to visit Finisterre, which some Europeans once believed was the end of the Earth. I would also like to spend a few days in Santiago and a few in Madrid before I fly home. I also have to keep in mind that I crossed into a different time yesterday, and the sun will come up an hour later today than it did in Portugal.
I’ve pretty much decided to abandon my trusty old Trek touring bike in Santiago. It is about 40 years old and has served me well, but it isn’t worth the cost and hassle of transporting it by train to Madrid and then flying it back to the States. I have too many old bikes in my house that I should have gotten rid of decades ago.