Having bid farewell to both Michael’s parents and then Tiffany, on April 23 Michael and I found ourselves on our own again for the first time in almost a month. And for the first time in almost a month, we were back to the by-the-seat-of-our-pants routine of figuring out each day our plans for the next, rather than planning out an itinerary ahead of time. Determined to get into the outdoors, we bought a book on wild spots and hikes in Portugal, and set our sights on optimizing for opportunities to hike and bike.
But first we opted to spend two more nights in Lisbon, catching up on work and laundry and planning for the summer but also fitting in some exploration (including yet another modern art museum – hear that, Mom?). We strolled sunny waterfronts, broad pedestrianized shopping boulevards, and winding narrow alleys emblazoned with graffiti, and found ourselves admiring the ubiquitous tiles on every apartment building, the adorable miniature tram cars, and the amazing views from Lisbon’s many hills. We ate some unusual but delicious sugary croissants, had octopus and tempura green beans in an upscale food market, and had one of the best meals of our trip at the unassuming bar around the corner from our apartment, where we ate mixed grill and roast lamb while watching a great soccer match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. I’d be the first to admit that we didn’t explore everything Lisbon had to offer, but we had a lovely few days there nonetheless.
From Lisbon we headed west along the coast to Cascais, where various guides told us there would be free bicycles and an oceanfront cycle path. Unfortunately, the bikes had stopped being free back in November, but they were inexpensive and we hopped on for two hours of riding along the coast to a windy but beautiful beach along striking sand dunes.
The town of Cascais had a few beautiful mansions:
We then traded the bicycles for our car and drove north to the tiny town of Atouguia da Baleia, a few miles inland of the coast near Peniche, where we had found an inexpensive guesthouse in a town previously known for its whale hunting but mostly chosen for being the direction we were headed. The owner pointed us to a delicious and inexpensive seafood restaurant where my squid ink linguine was packed with delicious seafood in a garlicky tomato sauce – superb!
From Peniche we headed for the hiking destination of Lousã, smack dab in the center of the Serra (hills) of Lousã, complete with castle and abandoned stone villages. But the drive is part of the journey, so we took the scenic route. We stopped first in Obidos, a renowned town with medieval walls and a restored castle surrounding a core of beautiful white homes decorated with roses, bougainvillea, and of course tiles. Its beauty is not undiscovered, and the town was crawling with tourists, but they mostly belonged to the 65+ tour bus crowd and we could escape them easily by climbing the steep alleyways to side streets with peekaboo views of the castle. We stumbled into a little bookshop in what used to be a church, and capped off our visit with a walk on the ramparts themselves, with great views back over town and a remarkable lack of concern for details like safety railings.
Our midday stop was at the castle of Almourol, perched on an island in the middle of the Tejo River at what was once the frontier between Christendom and the Moors. We ended up deciding not to take the boat trip to the island (nor wade across the ten-foot-wide strip of water between shore and castle) so it was slightly less exciting than we had hoped, but a beautiful castle nonetheless.
And on the way to Lousã we made one final stop at the Fragas de Sao Simao, a river beach (“praia fluvial”) that turned out to be one of many in a very popular Portuguese genre but which was especially awesome for its setting deep in a steep rocky ravine.
At last in Lousã, we spent our day on a wonderful long hike to several of the aldeias de xisto, long abandoned villages built from schist, a slate-like laminar rock. We had the forested trails to ourselves and the scenery was beautiful.
The highlight, however, was our unanticipated hiking companion: an adorable and friendly dog named Branquinha (as we read from her collar) who decided to follow us and then hiked ahead of us for nearly three hours, eagerly barking and running ahead to explore the trail. We loved her company – and it also led to three different wild boar encounters, including one with a mother and her three little piglets just off the trail, giving us a great view of our first wild boar! Luckily we all emerged unharmed, and in the end we managed to return Branquinha to her owners, who seem to have a habit of letting her wander with hikers!
After a nine-hour hike, we were plum tuckered out – so I’ll catch you up on more of our adventures later!