Third/fourth week thoughts

A little more than three weeks into the trip and I’m surrounded by a country of the nicest people in the world as a well as some “alright” countryside. ūüėČ

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I have started recognizing people in hostels who have been traveling for a while. They don’t care about the city’s attractions (because they’ve seen it all before), they don’t talk to people much (because they’ve heard it all before), they sleep a lot, and watch Netflix. I feel sorry for them. I don’t care much about attractions either. I haven’t paid to go into a single cathedral and only one castle. I have paid for a few gardens, but some of those are pretty neat, quiet, and they’re cheap. Much of what I do is eat the local specialties, drink local wine/liquor/beer/etc., and talk to people. The rest of my time is spent walking or riding. That probably explains how I have lost 7 lbs since coming over despite eating a huge amount of carbs and fat every single day. I eat baguettes as breadsticks, and breakfast regularly includes a full liter of whole milk or drinkable yogurt.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet some really great and interesting people along the way. Lauri and Gal, have been my pseudo traveling partners since we met in Sevilla. We happened to stay in the same hostel in Faro¬†two days after I left Sevilla, and then we met up again in Lisbon. They are two of the nicest, and most… “real” people I’ve met. They are so confident in who they are that you get the feeling that everything they say and do is just absolutely genuine. We all made it to Porto, but Gal has had the bad luck of needing dental work, and hasn’t¬† been able to do much due to the pain. They’ll be moving on to Barcelona after his dental work is done, so Porto is the end of our Iberian adventures. In another month they’ll return to Isreal from Europe and I’ll be heading to the UK for a couple months. Maybe next fall I can make a stop in Tel Aviv to visit them before heading to Southeast Asia.¬† We’ll see, but I’ll miss the familiar faces as I continue down the road.
Lisbon was a nice city. Super hilly, but nothing a little coffee can’t motivate you to tackle. Speaking of coffee, Lisbon provided the first really good coffee of the trip. I found two small local roasters/coffee shops and can recommend them both. Fabrica was my favorite (a lot like Yellowhouse), but Copenhagen coffee labs was also quite good. In the end though I just didn’t fit with the vibe of the city. It felt too new, and a little cold despite the people being extremely nice. Heck, even the guy trying to sell you fake drugs in downtown Lisbon will often times smile and wish you a good night after you repeatedly turn him down. After Lisbon I felt the need for some quiet time and traveled up the coast to Peniche and Figueira da Foz.
I took an extra day in the Peniche area because the couple that owns the hostel (33 Hostel) I stayed at in Ferrel (village near Peniche), are so incredible. They just opened the hostel, and are eagerly awaiting the start of summer. Their hospitality and excitement in meeting travelers is so awesome. I spent multiple hours talking to them about their travels, their business, and their hopes and dreams for the hostel. They’re an example of the genuine interest and excitement I’ve experienced from just about every Portuguese person I’ve met.¬†
Porto is an incredibly beautiful city. It has the atmosphere that I’ve been looking for in the big cities. It appears slightly rough around the edges, but old and inviting. The people here are, as always in Portugal,¬† incredibly nice. Yesterday I found the first, and only, craft beer shop in Porto, Catraio Craft Beer Shop. I spent quite a while talking to the owner about beer, the shop and my route plans. He was happy to recommend some cities to stop in, and said that the people will continue to become more and more inviting until I cross back into spain. (He said that with a wink) it seems impossle for people to be any better… For dinner Gal, Lauri and I found a small spot frequented by locals and enjoyed local dishes surrounded by a birthday celebration. We were likely the youngest people in the place, and certainly the only ones that didn’t speak Portuguese, but were treated with such kindness that it felt like we actually belonged there.

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It’s insanely easy to love Portugal. In the face of hard economic times they continue to hold onto their identity, and their past traditions of being kind, welcoming and extremely helpful. It doesn’t hurt that the entire country is absolutely stunning also. From the coast to the hills and valleys, there’s nothing but beautiful landscape and quaint cities and towns. However, I still think about other places. Recently it has been Ft. Collins, Colorado (I love that place, and had been craving a good beer until yesterday) and the Pyrenees on my mind.
The Asturias, Pyrenees and the next part of the journey are going to be much different than this “warm-up” period. Porto is my last really big city for a while. There will be midsized cities in the route, but nothing like this. I think that it’s a good thing to be away from the big cities for a while. The last couple of riding days have been trying mentally. I’ve been pushing too hard on the riding days to give myself some extra time in some of these great cities, but by about 65-80km into the day I start having thoughts along the lines of “I just want today to be over.” I shouldn’t be having those thoughts. I should be saying “Today is over. It was a good ride. Time to clean up and see the city.” I think the next section, with fewer big cities, will help with that as I won’t be trying to get to a big city for one reason or another. Smaller days of riding. More time in small towns and camping. Hopefully enjoying the 3-4 hours of work on the bike instead of dreading the 7.5-8 hr day of traffic, navigation, and really tired legs.
Also, I think I know why every other cyclotourist I see/meet is going south. The wind is predominantly from the north/northwest. They are riding with the wind. I should have a tail or cross-tail wind for much of the next part as I head north and east.
Flat tires have been a problem. I’ve had six in the first three weeks. All but one have been small shards of glass that got picked up in the tread of my rear tire and then worked their way though. While here in Porto I found a shop and bought a new rear tire. It’s heavy as hell,¬† but hopefully it prevents me from another flat just as a rainstorm is starting while going downhill at 40 kph, only 1 km from a gas station. That’s not hyperbole, it really happened. Or when you’re 2 km from the last hourly ferry to cross into Lisbon after 158 km of riding and you get a flat with 35 minutes until it leaves. Normally not a problem, but when you have to unhook the trailer, and deal with all this stuff as well as still navigate tortuous cobblestone streets the time gets tight. I made it with 3 minutes. Narrowly avoiding sitting around for an hour and 45 minutes waiting for the next one. If the tires prevent just one of those, they’re worth the weight.
Last day in Porto and the sun is shining again. Time to go enjoy it.

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Published by: Andrew Monfort

I am a former engineer who decided to follow my dreams. After 9 years of working as a process engineer in the oil & gas production and refining industries, I decided to follow my passions (cycling and travel) to see where they lead.

5 Comments

5 thoughts on “Third/fourth week thoughts”

  1. Andrew, I have not been in your shoes or taken an adventure like you, but I have interacted with a lot of people from different places. I have noticed that people that come from countries where they have less control of their environment and circumstances tend to be less stressed about the many things they cannot control. We are a product of our environment. We are slaves of the schedule, calendar, and clock. That is how our society works. Even in leisure! I enjoy riding my bike, but I don’t really enjoy it if I don’t keep track of time, distance, or average speed, something that tells me I have achieved something. I enjoy reading your posts, so keep on trucking buddy!

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  2. Hey Andrew, seems you’re settling into the new routine–because that is what it is. The riding takes on the daily work, but in a much better way. Still, what should really be enjoyable and nouveau at all times can become a grind, especially when circumstances (wind, mechanicals, just not feeling well, etc.) conspire against you. It’s in those times when you need to step back and remind yourself very gently that this beats the hell out of the best day you ever had on the job! In aggregate, I’ve spent years touring like this and can only assure you that just like the road, there are ups and downs. But how does that differ from life, anyhow?

    On a different note, I concur with your assessment of Portugal and its gentle people and your praises for Porto. Years ago, Judy and I rode the tandem from Santiago de Compostela south (Ha! We knew about the winds! Or maybe we were just lucky!) to Porto before heading back toward Madrid. Yeah, Porto was a definite highlight.

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  3. Love the letter update. Sounds wonderful I hope the travels continue without any major mishaps. Keep sending the pictures and stopping to smell the roses. Dad

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  4. Wonderful post and photos. I especially enjoyed reading about the people that you are meeting. Love you and be safe.

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