Christine is fond of saying to other Perigrinos “Listen to your body”. She will likely take her own advice tomorrow. Temperatures reached a hot and sunny 26c today, and are predicted to hit 28c tomorrow. This was tough on her, especially since we are in a hilly section with little shade.

The small lizards that we see scurrying up ancient rock walls love this, but we are mammals and not lizards. Chris will likely transport the 18km tomorrow to Ponte de Lima and find accommodations for us in that ancient river community while I walk to join her. The forecast for the remainder of the week looks to be more moderate. We will keep our fingers crossed.

We had hoped to overnight at a the very popular Albergue Fernando, however the operative word, “popular” meant that it was booked solid. We then secured a nearby option, Quinta Cancela, a charming villa and grounds, with accommodating staff. Our room is part of a 200+ year old structure with solid rock walls that are 2 feet thick. Our room is private, ensuite, includes breakfast, and at 80 euros would break most “pilgrim budgets”. I’m not saying that it isn’t worth it, just that we like to shoot for a lower price point on the Camino.

I have done our laundry and I am typing this note while waiting for our things to line dry. Over the last few years I have read that merino wool underclothes are naturally antimicrobial and thus “odor neutral”. I had been a skeptic, but not any more. Even socks smell fresh after an overnight airing, ready for another hard day on the trail.

Dinner was a short walk into town to a restaurant that featured local favorites. We like Portuguese cuisine… Christine the land variety and me the stuff that swims. We were joined by Irene and Manuala, Perigrinas from Switzerland. Irene spoke some Spanish which was helpful in communicating with our restaurant host, Edwardo, who spoke no English. Here I was at table with 3 lovely women. Edwardo projected a strong sense of admiration for me. He pantomimed “Amigo!” to me, and brought me a snifter of his best house brandy. A lengthy “conversation” proceeded where Edwardo did all the talking and we did our best to hang on and understand. He is 26 days younger than me and is officially of retirement age in 4 months. Unfortunately, his two children,a geologist son and chemist daughter, are not interested in taking over the family restaurant. He is not sure what to do, so for the time being he will continue to work. There was an overtone of sadness to Edwardo’s account. Nevertheless, it did not detract from an incredible meal enjoyed in good company. Edwardo made the meal, and we made memories!

Peace Everyone! Pete

Today we elected to walk a short 12 km and overnight in Barcelos. We had heard that this was a popular destination for the Portuguese, but we did not expect to arrive on the first day of a week long cultural festival… think Mardi Gras! Colorfully lit streets and buildings, a large carnival with all the typical rides, games of skill ready to suck the euros out of your pocket, and even a House of Horrors!

…and then there were the food vendors! Broiled meats served dripping in their juices on bread made fresh before your eyes in open fire ovens. INCREDIBLE, and it took only 10 euros to buy two of those huge gut bombs and wash them down with beer and wine. Our multi-linguistic finger pointing served us well.

The walk to Barcelos was a story in itself. Ancient wooded paths on 2,000 year old Roman trails. Hilly and at times a bit precarious, but the trekking poles provide a margin of balance and safety for 60+ year old legs.

Barcelos is the site of one of Portugal’s most beloved legends from which the iconic multi-colored Rooster, a symbol of the country, derives.

As we walked it occurred to me that many Americans may have a misconception about the “Old World” countries in general and Portugal in particular. I tend to take pictures of the verdant landscapes, agrarian vistas, and old architecture. However, there is another side to Portugal. It is a very modern and prosperous nation. There is excellent universal health care, an affordable world class education system, and even the moderately sized cities have well developed and well utilized public transit. We have walked through neighborhoods where there are row upon row of unique custom built homes whose price tags must me north of a million euros. Public high speed WiFi is readily available, more so than in the States. Violent crime is a rarity. With a population of 10.3 million, Portugal has approximately half the number of homicides in its entire country as metropolitan Kansas City with a population of about 1 million!

We continue to find the people of this nation to be kind, friendly, and eager to help us wandering Perigrinos.

There were so many excellent “Kodak Moments” that I urge you to click this LINK to see them all.

Peace Everyone! Pete

PS. We are spending the night in the 3 star Hotel Dom Nuno. 45 euros for our ensuite room, including breakfast. We will splurge tomorrow on a luxury accommodation in a countryside resort.

Looking back on a good day one may be blessed by the gift of an unexpected kindness. By that measure, today was exceptional. If kindness were rain, then we were soaked by a day-long cloudburst.

The treatment and “Buen Camino” that we received upon departing the Albergue this morning was filled with fondness. Once into our walk we passed a lovely home with a mother tending her yard, a young son in tow. She had fastened a small basket filled with fresh fruit next to her driveway gate. There was also displayed a Camino symbol and paper sign with one large word printed, “FREE”. The fruit was her gift to pilgrims walking past her home. I enjoyed a banana and Christine a succulent orange. We tried to pay her but she was adamant in her refusal to accept payment, wishing us another “Buen Camino”.

Later on the path we were the focus of a stampede of children with scouting neckerchiefs. One of them carried a covered pie pan sized aluminum foil container which she presented to us. It was a meal that the group had prepared for passing Perigrinos. We were deeply touched by their urgent sincerity, but had to decline the offer as we had no way of carrying the gift throughout the day. The disappointment in their eyes changed to excitement as I asked if they would pose with us for a picture. I explained to their leader that I would feature the kids and their generosity on my internet post for the next morning. Again, we received a chorus of “Buen Caminos!”

This was a long day. I clocked 22 km at day’s end (a little more than 14 miles). Not so much for some, but the most walking in a single day that I have done since reconstructive surgery on my ankle in 2013. I was tolerating the walk well, except for the start of a blister. A fellow Perigrino gifted me a plaster from her kit to prevent further irritation.

About three-quarters of the way into the day a large insect decided to fly into Christine’s mouth and down her throat. Her choking turned into retching and then uncontrollably “dry-heaves”. This then triggered a massive headache that effectively ended her walk for the day. We entered a nearby cafe where a waitress deciphered what had happened. She contacted a rural cab driver for us and within 20 minutes Chris was on the way to our next Albergue where rest and a glass or two of wine served by the host brought relief.

I continued the walk to conclusion with Dorta, an expatriate from Poland, now a US citizen and scientist residing in Maryland with her husband and 3 sons. She elected to stay over at the same Albergue with us as she was growing concerned with foot pain. Upon removing her boots and socks it was apparent that she was the victim of a number of serious blisters. Our host phoned the local pharmacist and arranged for him to open the pharmacy tomorrow at 10:30 am to treat the injured feet. Tomorrow is Sunday and the ordinarily closed shop is opening only for her. Here in Europe pharmacists are a bit like nurse practitioners. They can diagnose and treat minor conditions, and even prescribe medications if necessary. In Dorda’s case, this is the next best thing to a “house call”.

Today the music of songbirds has been our constant companion. It was a mild 72 degrees with overcast skies, and a constant downpour of kindness.

Peace Everyone! Pete

PS. I almost forgot to mention that Antonio, our host at Albergue Pedra Furada, gave us a private room, ensuite, 25 euros for the night! He also served an excellent 3 course pilgrim’s dinner for 6 euros each, plus beverages. Tomorrow will be a much shorter stage as we wish to spend some time in Barcelos, a small but popular town.

We are approximately 30 km from Porto at the end of our first day. Rather than “slog” through the heart of Porto and its suburbs we took the Metro to the outskirts of town and began our walk.

Today was hot by Camino standards, sunny and nearly 80 degrees. Our “path” followed rural cobblestone lanes with occasional shade, the fragrance of lilacs, and the barnyard sounds of sheep and chickens. Cafes were pleasantly spaced every few kilometers.

We have ended our walk for today at the Mosteiro de Vairao. Once a Monastery, and built in the 11th Century, it has been repurposed as a classic Pilgrim’s Albergue (Hostal). Use is limited to pilgrims walking the Camino, and the charge is a suggested donation of 5 euros per person. There are beds for 50 divided among 12 rooms, but it appears that there are only 7 of us here this evening. The other Perigrinos are 2 ladies from Finland, 2 gentleman from Brazil, and one from Maine. Since there are no services here at the albergue, 5 of us have agreed to join and walk 20 minutes to a nearby restaurant. The pilgrim from Maine and the other Brazilian joined later. 15 euros each for 3 excellent courses each of us, plus beer, wine, and a Tawny Port afterwards!

Here are pictures of the Monastery:

The Finnish ladies and I walked to a mini-Mercado (store) to buy some breakfast supplies, and as luck would have it the store had a small bar that serves cold beer as 1.20 euro a glass. The “supplies” I purchased, 3 bananas, cream filled croissants, and a bottle of good Portuguese wine (to share tonight with the pilgrims) cost only 6 euros! One could really stretch the retirement income in rural Portugal.

Today Christine turned on the charm with the lady managing the Monastery Albergue and got us the only singe room and double bed! Pretty remarkable since the lady spoke no English and Christine speaks no Portuguese. However, they do share the common language of pleasant smiles.

Tomorrow looks to be a 20 km segment. We have called ahead and reserved a room in a private albergue.

Peace Everyone! Pete

We leave Porto in the morning to begin walking the 250 km Portuguese route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This was our first visit to Porto (hopefully not our last!) but not our first connection to this beautiful place.

In 1991 Christine and I were in London, staying at a quaint brownstone B&B in the heart of the city on Gower Street. We had become friends with Teresa who was a staff person from Porto, and her visiting sister, Isabelle, also from Porto. Isabelle had brought her 10 year old son to London for continuing treatment of a life threatening condition, a growth in his throat that was restricting his esophagus. Doctors were investigating therapies before electing for a potentially dangerous surgery.

Guests were typically not allowed in the kitchen or garden of the B&B, but we became the exception. One evening we were treated to glasses of the excellent Port wine that Isabelle had brought from home, the four of us were exchanging stories and gratitude for the lives we had been given to date. It was one of those times that one comes to appreciate how much we are all alike across the globe. Teresa suggested that we all go to dinner the following evening at a local Greek restaurant, one of her favorites.

The next night we walked, arm-in-arm to dinner. The restaurant was alive with patrons speaking a number of foreign languages… our “America English” may well have been considered “foreign” by the Brits in attendance!

In the midst of the celebration Teresa let out a scream. A thief had grabbed her purse and was making a fast run to the street. Reflexively, I took pursuit and caught him just outside the restaurant. A physical confrontation ensued. I ducked a punch and succeeded in wrestling the purse away from him. He then ran off as other patrons were coming to lend assistance. Teresa and Isabelle were grateful, the restaurant owner thanked me and expressed his relief that I was unhurt. It was at that moment that I learned from the owner and other patrons that the fist that I ducked had held a knife.

Sadly, we lost touch with Isabelle and Teresa. I have wondered over the years about them and Isabelle’s son. Some stories are just destined to remain unfinished.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Tomorrow we officially start our 250 km walk to Santiago Spain. Today we mailed more “excess stuff” back home…

… and made a morning visit to the Cathedral in Porto to have our credentials stamped. It was an unexpectedly emotional moment for both of us. After a bit of silent reflection we decided to tour the adjoining Cloister.

We were met at the entry by Rita. She is a psychology student at the University of Porto. She and her friend and fellow student (in tourism), Mafalda, were taking pictures of visitors for personalized Cathedral memory booklets available for purchase, 7 euros. At the conclusion of our visit Rita showed us “our” booklet. It was a very good picture and we explained our regret that we had no way to safely carry it on the Camino. She thanked us as we left. A few minutes later Christine decided a crumpled booklet would be better than no booklet, and besides the young ladies were so polite and engaging. I remained behind and waited. Shortly thereafter Christine returned, red-eyed with tears. She explained that the girls decided to use their personal time to package and mail the booklet to our home. While our nationality didn’t matter, they had initially guessed that we were Canadians, because we had such big smiles!

We visited with Mafalda and Rita, learned a bit about one another, exchanged contact information, took pictures and hugged as we parted. Friendships were forged in minutes that may endure for a lifetime. This is the way of the Camino, and its “Angels”.

Our day continued, warmed by the glow of those special young women. We visited and toured the Croft Port wine cellars, the oldest Port producer in the world, its operations dating to 1588. They have one barrel of port that has been aging for nearly 130 years! A 90 year old was opened last year and declared excellent!

We enjoyed a boat tour on the Douro River, a gondola ride above the Port wine warehouses, and another exceptional street performance.

We will finish our day seeking another gastronomic “hidden gem”, drink a good Douro wine, and then try and get a good night’s rest for the Camino that awaits us.

(This is a link to other pictures from today)

Peace Everyone! Pete

Porto immediately impresses as a place that no matter how many days you are here, it is not enough. In our case we have allotted only 2 days as we are intent on beginning the Camino. As with Lisbon, perhaps another time.

We are staying at The Poets Inn of Porto, another “upscale” hostel. 45 euros a night buys us a remarkably spacious room that oozes with charm… breakfast is included! The bland exterior camouflages this hidden gem.

We settled in late in the afternoon and chose naps before settling out to explore the neighborhood, central city, and seek dinner. This is a compact city, folded into the hills that challenge ones legs and sense of direction.

The restaurant we chose was located in an alley, hidden from the more tourist oriented establishments on the nearby square. It was recommended by our host, yet the exterior still commanded a leap of faith for us to enter. Our reward was the finest meal of this journey to date, bar none! Christine had a fall-off-the-bone pork shank, and I was wowed by a grilled octopus. The trimmings would have outshone most fine dining entrees, but ours main courses were so exceptional that they retained their status at “top billing”. A rich and complex red Duoro wine became the exclamation point of the meal. By the way, can you guess the original function of the “chandelier”???

Tomorrow we explore the city, get our credentials stamped at the Cathedral for our Camino departure, sip port wine, and look into each other’s eyes.

Peace Everyone. Pete

The weather set the tone for the day; sunny, warm, and not a cloud in the sky! We intended to occupy a part of the morning doing laundry, but Liz here on staff at Poets Hostal did it for us. Washed, dried, folded, and ready for us at the end of the day!

We are getting a bit burned out on the “tourist, do this museum, see this site thing”. Lisbon is beautiful and there is so much to see, but it might just be here for us another day.

That having been said, we returned to the waterfront and enjoyed tea, a coffee-con-leche, and a sandwich while watching people pass by. The square is dominated by a grand arch. 2.50 euros buys you a ticket to the top where you can examine the tower clockwork mechanism. The view from the top is stunning!

Returning to ground we caught a street tram to the Belem District, about 4 miles away, and the location of a number of very fine museums. We only had time to visit the monumental structures and grounds of the Monastery of St. Jerome. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is over 500 years old and was once the home of the monastic Order of St. Jerome. It was secularized in the 19th Century. A number of members of Portugal’s royal family members are entombed here, but the most notable crypt within the church is that of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator who in 1497 discovered a route to the wealth of the Indian Ocean via rounding the bottom of Africa. The resulting trade enshrined Portugal as a dominant world power for the next 200 years. A link at the end of this post will give you access to more pictures of the Monastery.

I received a message the prior day from Jerome (no relation to the Saint or Monastery!) and Morgane, the young couple we met on the night train from Madrid. Apparently they had not had their fill of our company and asked if we were available for dinner. We responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!”. We met in The Chiado District and found a venue to eat, drink, and make memories. Sharing a love of life has a way of erasing the decades that otherwise separate us in age.

Christine and I enjoy the sights of travel, but most of all we love the chance encounters that become endearing friendships. Our evening with Morgane and Jerome was special. We suspect that this will not be the last time that our life paths cross!

This is a link to our images today.

Peace Everyone! Pete

We have considered that this journey seems to unfold in “chapters“. We think that the overnight “Train Hotel” to Lisbon qualifies as it’s own chapter. We are not strangers to sleeper trains in Europe. I have traveled from London to Paris where the entire train was put into a ship and crossed the English Channel from Dover to Calais then on to Paris. This was pre-Chunnel. I have also ridden the Orient Express from Belgrade to Paris… Hercule Poiroit was not on board.

In 1991 we traveled with our children from Amsterdam to Munich in a non-private second class “Couchette” with 6 beds organized 3 high on each side. Our family occupied 5 of the bunks, and the 6th was held by a Yugoslav expat who lived in Amsterdam with his wife and young daughter where he was employed as an electrician. It was the start of the disintegration of Tito’s Yugoslavia. He was traveling to Munich and then on to the border where he hoped to enter his former homeland covertly to extract his parents. He and I spent the entire night awake, sharing beers and talking life and family. I was on a vacation and he was on a literal life and death mission. He explained that if he were caught the best case scenario was forced conscription, the worst, execution. To this day I wonder of the outcome…

Our train accommodations from Madrid to Lisbon were technically 1st Class, but not when compared to the glory days of rail travel in Europe that I had experienced decades ago. We had a simple private compartment with 2 beds and a sink. Clean and efficient, we were provided with toiletries and towels. The beds were comfortable and our coach adjoined the restaurant/bar car. The best “perk” was that we had access 2 hours before boarding to the Renfe (Spain’s National rail line) private lounge and complimentary snacks and beverages.

After the typical on-time departure, Christine and I took seats in the bar-car for some snacks and vino tinto (red wine). We made the acquaintances of a young couple from Austin Texas. She, Morgan, is a very talented artist exhibiting in Europe and Jerome owns and operates along with his mother a bakery, “Rolling in Thyme and Dough”. Morgan and Jerome have known each other for half their lives and about 18 months ago awoke to the realization that they loved each other. We talked life from both sides of the mirror, shared laughter seasoned with wine and olives. I will remember them.

Arrival in Lisbon was before 8am. We are guests of The Poets Hostel of Lisbon. They agreed to hold our packs as check-in was not until 2:30, but they graciously allowed us to take breakfast. Christine and I then left to walk 7 miles of this very hilly city, visiting the main Plaza, securing seat reservations for our Wednesday train to Porto, touring the 11th Century Castle that overlooks the city, and of course the Cathedral where we encountered other Pilgrims who were there,like us, to obtain sellos (stamps) on their Credentials.

Our Hostel facilities and room are top-notch at only 50 euros a night. We have a private balcony and an incredible view. A clean room, friendly staff… this was a good choice.

This is a link to additional pictures from today.

Peace Everyone! Pete

We are the old folks in a young people’s Hostel, yet we fit right in. What “OK Hostel Madrid” lacks in amenities it more than makes up for in unabashed friendliness. We enjoyed a communal breakfast and then joined a donation only walking tour of the city. I will include below a link to the random images and videos of excellent street musicians and a church choir captured from the day.

The second picture below is of the Royal Palace that dates to the 18th Century and is the largest in Western Europe, containing over 3,000 rooms and the largest collection of medieval armor in the world.

Above it the facade of the Madrid Cathedral where it faces the Royal Palace.

Link: Street Singers

Link: Church Choir

This evening, Karen at the front desk recommended that we walk 20 minutes to Plaza de Santa Ana in the Letres Barrio to Vinoteca Barbechera. What a fabulous recommendation that turned out to be. The night and city vibrations were accentuated by excellent tapas and a remarkable Vino Tinto Tempranillo. We FaceTimed with some of the “little people” and reflected on the past, present, and future. Our servers, Bianca and Carlos were absolutely the best! Dinner started at 10pm, but the memories will last a lifetime.

Tomorrow we tour more of the city and then board a Tren-Hotel (train hotel) at 9:40pm bound for Lisbon. We have a private sleeping compartment that will be our overnight “home” until we arrive in Lisbon Portugal the next morning.

Here is a link to our images from today

Peace Everyone! Pete