Our fourth day of cycling started in Nazaré, a delightful resort town with scenic cliffs and huge breaking waves. In the late morning we rode to the old Nazaré Lighthouse (Farol da Nazaré) where visitors can view the cliffs and both Praia do Norte and Praia da Nazaré. The weather was inspiring and the sky clear, so we sat and observed the beaches and the waves while eating breakfast. This part of Nazaré has some historical buildings, a square with vendors and people wearing traditional clothing from the area and just felt like it had a lot going on. We decided to stay the whole morning, walking our bikes through the little streets and stopping for coffee.
While we were leaving the city, I realized a pattern emerging; navigating though large towns and cities presented the biggest challenges so far. These places are crowded, complicated and safety becomes a concern. Turning left is really hard and we have to take care to both make it through traffic lights and keep to our distance from the cyclists biggest frenemy, buses. In cities it’s not easy to just stop and check for directions and sometimes the road we had planned to follow looked too chaotic for cycling and we had to change course. It reminded me a bit of hitchhiking, where it’s almost better to avoid a city and take a ride around it then taking your chances of smoothly going in and exiting. During our morning break we decided to make an effort to go around cities unless there was a special reason for visiting.
Out of Nazaré we followed a small road coast-side of Hwy 242. In the afternoon the wind really picked up and a sprinkling of showers fell- the first of the trip – although gentle enough to still enjoy the winding path along the Silver Coast. I actually enjoyed the rain to a degree. The rugged coast really seemed to come alive and command respect and attention. It’s so easy to think of a beach as a place for watching sunsets and digging toes into sand and not as the wild and dynamic place that it is.
Before reaching the Óbidos Lagoon we headed inland and spotted the famous castle from almost 10 kilometers away. I found this really exciting and loved the classic medieval architecture; when I imagine a castle, something exactly like the shape the of the Óbidos Castle comes to mind. We rode up the curving road past the almost thousand year old complex and stopped at a cafe to enjoy the view and rest our legs. Thinking about all the history surrounding us was a really powerful experience. Not just the millennia of human activity but also the slow processes nature; seeing the rugged coast slowly shaped by wind and waves provokes you to really think about time.
That evening we found a campsite south Peniche and picnicked on fruit we bought from a roadside stand. Although we were in the mood for something more substantial, it was a Sunday and markets and many cafes were closed. It was the only night we really didn’t get a nice dinner but it was still fun and filling with all the fruits and the last of the bottle of port we picked up in Porto.
My favorite sights were the small beaches of Santa Cruz and São Lourenço with layered and colorful rock formations where the sea and land come together. Eventually the route wandered away from the coast and passed through orchards, vineyards and around castles, really completing the picture of this beautiful country.
It only took me five days to get lost. Trying to follow a network of different trails and routes is exhausting. In an effort to save time on the way to Sintra, we turned onto highway N9 – not at all scenic but it allowed us to move quickly and not worry about navigation. I followed the road until I was able to see Castelo dos Mouros, the 9th century Moorish castle of Sintra looming high, appearing very detailed and imposing, and much closer than it actually was. Assuming I was very near Sintra, and with my travel partner far ahead of me I turned off of N9 and planned to follow whatever little roads seem to head towards to the castle (I usually have a great sense of direction). This approach actually took a few hours and instead of spending the day off the bike, trekking deep into the nature park, I arrived to Sintra at about 6 PM. pretty grumpy, tired and too late to check into almost any accommodation in the area. After some running around, I found The Blue House, a very cute and wonderful hostel. The owner was really cool about letting me keep my bike on the second floor patio and gave me some great ideas for dinner and wines to try while I recovered from the long day. My cycling partner ended up in a different place that night and I was able to meet other travelers and have time to myself and it was a really lovely evening. I hadn’t realized how tired and stressed I had become the preceding days. Cycle touring is very fun but having to deal with all the little things of planning your own cross country tour builds up a lot of stress. It was great to be shaken back into a nice mental space.
Today, on day number six, I have a flat and easy ride from Sintra to Lisbon via Cascais and it will have a lot of snack (and also wine) stops. Aside from a few infrastructure and navigation issues, things are actually going really well. My bottom is finally getting used cycling (thank goodness). I’ve seen a few other bike travelers and a handful of what looks like long distance hikers. It’s encouraging to see these people and enjoy a chat with them; there is a magic in seeing other regular people doing challenging things too and makes me feel a bit more sane about just deciding to bike across a foreign country.
Thank you for reading!