Robert Seeney Photography Touring Motorbike » Photography Biking Nottingham East Midlands

Europe Part 8 – We bones here, for yours await

“Nobody enjoys the company of others as intensely as someone who usually avoids the company of others.” – Mokokoma Mokhonoana

northernspain-20Capilla de los Huesos, Spain, 5d2, 16-35L

It’s always quiet in the helmet. Blurs of green and blue as you cross rivers, ride through forests. Another petrol stop, another coffee, another stretch of the legs. I guess that many people would imagine the road to be a boring place as mile after mile of tarmac passes under the wheels but it never is. It’s all about being in that moment, the quiet, the concentration, the nothingness which is so utterly relaxing and utterly addictive. People pay thousands of pounds to go on ‘mindfulness’ courses and get shown how to colour a book in. Get on a bike and ride somewhere, anywhere and save your money.

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Monastery of Jeronimos, Lisbon, 5d2, 16-25L

Riding down through Portugal was a pleasure – a lovely day with temperatures reaching almost 20 degrees and a wind that cooled me down – more so as I approached the coast and the seaside location of Estoril. I’d decided to stay at Estoril because it’s only 20 minutes by train to Lisbon. Having gone round a one way several times I finally pulled over by a hotel that had the same name as my booking. Great. Hopped off the bike, into the reception and it looked great. Unfortunately, my B+B was 4 doors down and shared the same name.

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Coastline of Estoril, 5d2, 16-35L

I left my bike on the road in a parking bay, walked to the B+B and after a bit of conversation, realised that secure parking meant that they had an allocated parking space in a public car park some distance from the place. Not great. After a tense discussion with the owner, he came out to my bike – down the long narrow alley leading to the street and then said ‘ah’. Ended up pushing the bike up on to the pavement, wedging it in between a lamp post and a wall and then chaining the bike to the post. If my bike was ever going to get stolen then this would be the time. I lugged the panniers up the alley, up 4 flights and dumped them in the room…exhausted. I couldn’t see the bike and probably wouldn’t even hear the alarm if it went off. Still, nothing I could do but go with the flow and keep everything crossed.

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Main Square of Lisbon (Rossio square), 5d2, 16-35L

Estoril was quiet – still out of season like Espinho had been. I took a quick walk around that evening to check out the train station, the beach and the town centre. Ended up settling for an over-priced beer in a beachside restaurant and watched the sun go down. I would do this for the next few nights at the end of each day – one beer, one seat, one sunset. Not sure if there is a better end to the day really – there is something quite magical as the last rays of the sun dip below the horizon and the sea turns from blue to gold to black and just the sounds of the waves breaking remains.

The following day I was off to Lisbon which is the largest capital city in Europe. The tourist map scale was in miles which meant it was very big and my rough plan was to see as much as I could today and then pick up the remainder the day after. Didn’t quite work out like that.

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Scary bridge (25 de Abride), Lisbon, 5d2, 16-35L

It was hot in Lisbon – I felt it as soon as I got off the train. A brief walk along the sea front and I arrived at the grandiose main square. Wandering rather aimlessly through the back streets I decided to walk up to the Agenda de Liberdade. It’s a very long and straight walk – a few miles of paved (and quite pleasant) tree lined avenues with various statues and small squares with buildings such as the opera hall. Unlike Porto, Lisbon has been taken over by the various designer shops and they took up every inch of space in the buildings. Could have been anywhere with that view – New York, London, wherever. A real shame that the city has been taken over by the never ending march of westernisation.

I reached the end of the Avenue to be greeted by the usual hawkers, tourist flocks and a myriad of coaches. It had taken a while to get up there and with one last push, I reached the summit of the Avenue and it’s an impressive view down towards the sea.

northernspainAvenida de Liberdade, Lisbon, 5d2, 16-35L

After a bit of a rest, a swig of water and a few peanuts (living life like a king!) I walked back down the Avenida towards the castle. Very hot. Very sweaty and eyes strained from the sun. Past the designer shops – the distances in Lisbon are huge and if you go then use the tourist buses. I’m always keen on walking around cities on foot but Lisbon is just too big and spread out. As I walked through one of the countless squares, I was approached to buy drugs. Not something that happens too often but even less so when its right in front of the police and a hundred other tourists. I think its fair to say at this point that Lisbon was not growing on me. I would be approached three times during the day by drug dealers. They have no fear of the police and approach anyone and everyone quite brazenly.

Stopping for a bite to eat in a back street cafe was as much about eating as it was getting out of the sun. Big lunches with copious amounts of wine all around me – people laughing and families dining together. I nursed a bottle of water and a breakfast bar, grateful for the rest after several hours of walking. I then took the long walk up the hill to the castle of Sao Jorge, ducking under shop awnings and walking in the shade wherever I could. Huge queues for the castle and the familiar sound of chattering tourists. I joined the queue, paid my money and walked slowly around the castle grounds. It has an impressive view of the harbour since you are up high but other than that, it is quite unremarkable. I think it was at this point that I decided that Lisbon wasn’t particularly appealing for me. I met people later on the journey who loved Lisbon but for me….no. I decided at the castle that it was time to head to the Monastery of Jeronimo and then get back to the B+B. The monastery was miles away, it was mid afternoon and I was tired from the walking and heat). Lisbon is in the throes of being dug up for transport investment. Trying to buy a tram ticket is a nightmare – I walked into the station, was told to buy one at a different place, walked back out of the station and then got told to buy one back at the station. Not overly impressed with this as you might imagine having wasted half an hour. So I sat in the main square, watching a group of street musicians performing a capella. Damn they were good – a sort of soul feel with some rap and melodies. I  dropped a few coins in the bucket and later on I would find out they were actually a band on tour and had decided to do this street performance as an impromptu event prior to their gig in Lisbon that night.

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Cloister, Monastery of Jeronimo, 5d2, 16-35L

It took me an age to get to the monastery. I waited 40 minutes for a tram and then took the 20 minute ride like a sardine. I was sweaty and so was everyone else. Including the guy who decided that I would love to have his armpit right over my nose and the child who decided that now would just be the perfect point in time to start screaming. I closed my eyes and drifted away into the Picos. Now, the problem with the construction works is that the stops for the tram don’t have any signs. Looking around like some kind of crazy meerkat, I had no idea where I was. I asked but no one spoke English. ‘Jeronimo?’, a quick finger wag from the man with the armpit I took to mean no. I was sure this was the stop but took his advice. As the tram pulled away, I turned around and saw the monastery. Oh well, get off at the next stop. My face must have given away my utter despair. An American guy sitting 2 seats away said to me ‘Hey, are you facing a challenge?’ On any given day I can tolerate (somewhat) this fake language that we seem to have invented to communicate with one another. On this day, squashed between armpit man, screaming kid and feeling the sweat run down my spine, I couldn’t. I grunted something about the state of public transport and the conversation ended there. I’m sorry but sometimes things aren’t a challenge, they’re just a pain in the rear and no amount of positive spin is going to make it better. To add insult to injury, the next tram stop was a mile away. More walking, no shade. but at least I was out of the prison tram. I thought long and hard about whether to post this as travel ‘blogs’ are meant to always be super happy but I’m a pretty regular human and I’m sure lots of people can appreciate (and forgive) my flaws.

northernspain-9northernspain-12Monastery of Jeronimo, 5d2, 16-35L

The monastery is impressive – large, grandiose and awe inspiring. With a large cloister and an imposing crucifixion piece above the tombs, it is a place to reflect and to walk around goggle eyed with your neck craning to try and take it all in. I was one of the last to leave and this gave me a wonderful view of the monastery being bathed in soft golden light. I sat outside watching the warders close the gates and the last of the tourists drift away. I wasn’t getting on a tram again so I decided to walk the 2 miles to a local train station where I could pick up a connection back to Estoril. Walking by the sea, I passed the maritime buildings and saw the globe that I would see a few months later at Nordkapp along with a monument to mariners. I was grateful of the breeze blowing in from the water.

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Monument, Waterfront near Jeronimo Monastery, 5d2, 16-35L

I was glad to arrive back that evening (stopping for a quick beer and sandwich at the seaside cafe) and even more pleased that I had pushed on to see the monastery as it meant I didn’t need to return to Lisbon the following day. Walking into the B+B, I was relieved to see the bike still there and after a quick shower I crashed out and woke in the early hours. I spent the following day by walking along the coast to Estoril town, eating baccalau and drinking wine. Baccalau is basically fish and chips…sort of. The wine was vino verde – a really refreshing white wine that had been recommended to me by Mr T. It was good to relax, to unwind and not face the tourist throng. I even managed to try the cherry liqueur from Obidos as they were selling it from street stalls – a euro for a shot in a chocolate cup. Very nice, reminded me of those liqueurs that you used to have for Christmas with that thick syrupy cherry liquid mixed with chocolate. Walking back along the seafront, a little worse for wear I will admit, was very relaxing. Not too many people around and only locals at that. Most of the cafes and restaurants were empty or had only local young couples in them, enjoying the last rays of the day. I stopped for a while on some rocks, watching the waves break and dipping my (sore) feet into the water. Such a good feeling to place weary feet into the sea and just watch the horizon and my new found friend, Bert.

northernspain-16Estoril, 5d2, 16-35L

It would have been rude not to call in at the seaside bar on the way back and as I relaxed with a beer the same hawker came along that I had waved away the last 2 days. He was selling some kind of basket with various compartments built into it. I asked him what the compartments were for as it didn’t seem to be much use to me as a basket. He laughed, said he didn’t know what they were for and it didn’t make much sense to him either. I laughed. He asked if I was interested in a deal on it to which I smiled and put my hand up to say no. He smiled, knowing full well he wasn’t going to interest me in this (or anything else for that matter). I asked him his name. Moses. Made me pause for thought as he walked away and I headed back for sleep.

I had hoped to visit Sintra the following day which looks like a truly magical place. However, torrential rain put paid to that as it is all outdoors and the rain was bouncing off the ground all day long. So I spent the day checking up on the next stages of the trip, packing the panniers and resting up.

Having repacked the bike and removed her from the lamp post, the journey out of Estoril was straight forward – it was great to be back on the road after the washout the previous day. I rode out along the coast and picked up the main highway through Lisbon and soon arrived at the bridge. Nice bridge. Several lanes wide. What they don’t give you any warning of is the metal grates that make up the carriageway. I saw them coming up, shoulder checked left and realised I couldn’t get onto the solid lane. I hit the grates, the bike squirmed, I squirmed, signs flashed by overhead saying no motorbikes in this lane. Not sure how I managed to get over into the other lane – more by luck than judgment and a parting gift from Lisbon I guess!

A few hours riding later and I crossed back into Spain en route to the Capella de los Huesos, the Church of Bones.

northernspain-17Capella de los Huesos, 5d2, 16-35L

Built in the 16th century and adorned with the bones of the townsfolk, it isn’t as creepy as you might imagine. The various signs around the chapel remind visitors that is a place of meditation by the Franciscans and is intended to serve as a symbol of the transitory nature of human existence. Similar to losing your back wheel on a slippy surface I guess. Along with Belchite (coming soon) this was one of the places that I wanted to see in Spain – check opening hours if you are going, I had to wait around for 2 hours which meant that I was really delayed as I was travelling to Seville afterwards and I didn’t arrive until 9pm that night. A timely reminder that no matter how well you think you have planned your journey, there is always something that will throw you off schedule.

This has been a long post to write and I’m sure its been a long post to read so congratulations for making it this far! In the next post I cross through the heartland of Spain from Seville to Cordoba to Granada and then on to Belchite. For now I will leave you with this poem from the Church of bones

‘Look you hasty walker, stop don’t go further more, no business is more important, than this one at your display

Bear in mind how many were here, think you’ll have a similar end, then to reflect, this is reason enough, as we all did think it over

Think, that you fortunately, among all the worlds affairs, you do think so little about death

Though if you raise your eyes here, stop…as in such a business, the sooner you go further, the more you get ahead’ 

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