My original plan for Portugal was to ride straight from Madrid to Porto. I chose Porto mainly because Etienne recommended it. I wanted to get to Portugal, but didn't really want to spend all that much time there. When I left Madrid, Amalia and I decided to meet in Lisbon instead. So when I got done in southern Spain, I headed off for Portugal.
Portugal had a fairly brief period of greatness around the 16th century. In fact, they once made a treaty with Spain that divided the world evenly between Portugal and Spain. That's the reason they speak Portuguese in Brazil but nowhere else in the Americas. Brazil happened to end up on the Portuguese side of the line. (A funny story shows two Canadians who wanted to move to Brazil, so they spent two years learning Spanish. Oops!).
Portugal's most famous navigator was Vasco de Gama, who discovered the route around the southern tip of Africa. He named the peak at the southern end the Cape of Storms, but his king who was much more up to speed in PR renamed it the Cape of Good Hope. This should sound familiar as it became the Cape Colony, and then ultimately Cape Town, South Africa. This was a huge innovation, as it allowed Europe to get to the extremely lucrative spice trade between India and Europe, as well as the silk trade with China and other markets. Prior to this route opening up, all these products flowed by land through the huge Islamic empire that dominated the Middle East and North Africa. This cut out the middle-men, badly damaged the Muslim empire, and helped usher in the new era of Western European dominance. This is the route Columbus thought he was looking for when he discovered the Americas.
Portugal wasn't in the empire game for long, as it was in serious decline soon after and they eventually declined to it's present size, which is hardly awe-inspiring. It's about 20% the size of Spain, or slightly larger than Indiana.
I'll have to say I didn't really give Lisbon a chance, so you should disregard everything I have to say about it. It was going to be my endpoint for cycling, but circumstances intervened.
On the day I arrived, I rode around the city and found it pretty agreeable for the last hour or two of daylight I had. The only thing that had me just a touch worried was that when I talked to people about my bike when I stopped for dinner, they spent an inordinate amount of time determining if it was an expensive bike or not, and then eyeballing it like a hawk while I went into a fast food restaurant to eat. People look at it a lot all the time, but after someone makes such a big deal about it's cost and then watches it closely, I'm inclined to watch it closely as well.
There were these two huge statues that looked pretty much like they let a five year old kid loose with a cutting torch and asked them to make fifty foot statues. You can't really get the effect in this photo, but the orange leg in the foreground is about 3 times my height.
After dinner, I had a terrible time finding a hotel. In most places, a hotel is indicated by putting the keyword hotel, or hostel, or pension or something on the sign. In Lisbon, they didn't do that. For example, the American Hotel simply has a sign that says American, and you're supposed to happen to know that it's a hotel. A couple of hotels had entrances that were way too subtle for me as I rode all the way around the building several times and couldn't find it. I finally found a hotel map, marked the location of a couple of them on my map and went there. In most cases, the danged thing wasn't there. I finally ended up staying at a horrendously expensive hotel for a night just because I could actually identify the danged thing as a hotel.
The next day I was in a very foul mood due to circumstances that had nothing to do with Lisbon. Ordinarily, I would ignore that and get on with it, but then I started looking for a cheaper hotel and didn't like the experience. I was riding slowly and carefully through a deserted pedestrian mall with nothing but a few people here and there, and the police started hassling me about it. That didn't really bother me, so I got off and pushed which is what I normally do if there are any people anyway. Then little annoyances just started cropping up left and right. You may remember me saying repeatedly that when I expect things to go well they tend to go well. The corollary for that is that if I'm in a cranky mood and expect things to go badly then they tend to do so. It sounds superstitious, but it seems to be true. The last straw for Lisbon was when the seventh person tried to sell me drugs within a half-hour period. At that point, I decided I'd had enough of Lisbon and decided to go to Porto. It was only 400 km (250 Miles) north, so why not? Unfortunately, I couldn't get access to a phone for the next day so I was 2 days late calling Amalia, and I changed the place of our meeting arbitrarily. As it turned out, I caught her on her mobile phone just as she was going into the door at her apartment to sit down and write me an email telling me to piss off. I applied my maximum amount of charm (admittedly, not all that much but adequate), and prevailed upon her to come to Porto anyway, and it all worked out in the end.
Porto is a very nice town... I guess. Amalia drove her car out to Porto and we spent our first real week together there. She managed to get all the way from Madrid to Porto while only being stopped by the police one time, which makes a new record for a four hour drive. We walked around the town and the beach area quite a bit, and quite liked the town but as it was our first real week together I hope you don't expect any real details of the town. I did re-learn how to drive a car, since I haven't driven one in two years. Don't look for me to give up the bike any time soon.
Porto is famous as the place where port wine was invented. Ummm!!!! Ahhh!!!! Well, you can tell I'm grasping at straws here so I'll just give up. Porto was a nice town and I recommend it, particularly if you have a new Spanish girlfriend.
For the most part, I liked Portugal but I was only there for just over a week so it's not much to go on. There are only two things that I didn't particularly like. The first and foremost is that the bicycle friendliness of the drivers took a nosedive. The Portuguese don't seem to be as unfriendly as Americans or anything like that, but since I'd just left the country with the friendliest drivers in the world it was a noticeable drop. The other problem was the complete lack of Fanta Limon. That's enough reason to leave a country and go back to Madrid right there, so that's what I did.
Next - Back to Spain