After unsuccessfully searching for food, I returned to the hostel. Here are some pics:
I was sitting at the dining room table researching my day, when in walks a girl with a huge suitcase speaking ENGLISH! It is pathetic how excited I was. She dropped off her luggage and sat down, started checking in on her phone. I waited patiently, trying to get a strange anxiety under control. Unsuccessful, I shamefully return to my room. Ah, there is her luggage- it seems we are roommates! I walk out and introduce myself, happily engaging in the mother tongue. She is Australian (with British relatives) en route to Morocco- exciting! It is refreshing to hear from fellow travelers- you learn a lot about, say, the places you are heading some of the time and good tips and tricks all of the time. I am hungry, so we plan a foray into town. As we are preparing to leave, our third roommate arrives- a girl with a backpack. Alright, no hang-ups here! I will admit my surprise, I had naturally assumed a homogeneity of gender. I suppose that Americans are a bit uptight when it comes to this sort of thing.
Anyhow, we all introduce ourselves- the Australian is Grace, and the backpacker is Julia- from Germany (half Hungarian), these things are important, I came to discover. Grace and I left for the lovely castle town of Obidos while Julia got settled. It is a lovely, cozy, romantic town in every sense. We drank some wine while we waited for the shop to open. (Seven o’clock seems to be dinner time around here, which exacts a tortuous, unwilling patience from famished cyclists.) For dinner I had a delicious salmon and spinach lasagna. We were having dessert, Grace a slice of the “World’s Best” chocolate cake that live up sufficiently to its title and I a beer when Julia pops in for a slice herself. She is hiking to Santiago de Compostela! She is the first fellow pilgrim, if we can be so labelled, I have met. We talked a lot about rain.
It was a lovely evening with two lovely girls, Grace the trypophobe and Julia the late-morning backpacker. I wish them well on their journeys. It was difficult to part ways- some good companions certainly protracted my sense of solitude as I rode off. I joked with Julia about getting hit with rain and we had both set off in our slickers. Of course, it got warm and a blue sky smiled down on me from between patches of cloud. Off come the jackets and I am riding in a tank top again… until I got caught in a savage hail storm. After that it was nice again. I had booked a bed in the town of Leiria, which was a little further than I have been riding, about 60 kilometers away, but I checked the route and there wasn’t supposed to be too much elevation. Well:
I saw this hill from a ways off. This was fine with me, but if my map was right, this should be all the climbing I do today. I feel great, but still cautious with building up to longer days. To my right was this strange sculpture to contemplate as I surveyed the hill:
The hill was long, but gratifying. I went down the other side and up another hill. And another. And another. One 2-3 kilometer section was a 10% grade. Brutal! I had a good time though, and took it slow.
Towards the end of the day, I rounded a corner and saw this HUGE cathedral!
It is the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, built in the 4th century, one of Portugal’s most visited sites. I just stumbled upon it! It is awesome, in the literal sense. Your body buzzes as you walk through its enormity. The architect’s grave is right in doorway. I actually thought to collect a stamp on my pilgrimage passport, and did, with free entry into the cathedral. There was a gigantic knight’s tomb of some sort in an adjoining room, but there were ticketers there and I did not care to explain my special treatment in broken Portuguese. It was enough to walk down to the alter. Magnificent.
I did not realize how big Leiria is. I was a couple kilometers away at about 4:20, and did not arrive for another hour; I spent it trying to avoid the highways with the “no bikes” signs. I have yet to determine the best way to get out of here.
I have been a bit over budget the last few days with all the hostelling and I realize that I cannot really eat out and stay within budget: I can eat out when camping, but need to cook when paying for board. I am unconcerned, as I am told the rain is supposed to stop after this week (I’ll believe it when I see it). I am meeting people, and it is well worth the experiences. However, the hostels up to this point have been 17-20 euros. All have included breakfast up to this point as well:
The Atlas Hostel in Leiria, despite being in the largest city, was only 13 euros! Lamentably, no breakfast. It is a cool building though. There is a ground floor entrance with stairs up to a bar- which was popping last night- and many rooms to hang out in. There is a kitchen, bathrooms and showers around the corner, then up another flight of stairs to the rooms, a living room and a rooftop terrace! Old wood floors and very hip, lots of young, colorful people around.
There is a castle on the hill- I am reluctant to say this, but castles are losing some of their allure, they are everywhere! If I toured each one I would be exhausted and broke… This is the biggest castle I have seen so far though.
I was checking out the living room, when a fellow walks in carrying an armful of Ortlieb panniers! “You came by bike!” I said, and as I suspected, the host led him right to my bunkroom. As usual, we are the only people in the hostelry part of the building it seems, sharing a six bed bunkroom. Off season. Quite delightful! His name is Michiel, Dutch, and he is cycling along the coast from Barcelona to Porto. We talked a lot about rain. It turns out we had encountered each other before: As I was entering Sintra, a man hailed me from the street as I rode in, giving me props. I thought it may have been a fellow tourist, but I was fatigued and burdened with worry about my knee, so I smiled, waved, and kept on toward the hostel. It was Michiel!
In the spirit of getting back in budget range, I had picked up some meager groceries- a vegetable soup mix and a can of tuna, some bread. Michiel on the other hand, had a pannier bursting with vegetables, so I made my soup, which essentially requires heating some water and stirring, while he cooked up a delicious and filling stir fry with rice. Yum yum.
It turns out we are very kindred spirits. We talked long into the night about the nature of our mode of travel, why we are driven to do what we do, aspects of life that led us to where we are now, our experiences so far, our impressions of Portugal, the challenge of learning languages. (He speaks Dutch and English fluently, as well as Indonesian, and is picking up Spanish. I suspect he knows a fair bit of French as well).
I never tire of conversing with people from other places; as I see more and meet different people, experience the flavor of their refreshing cultural backgrounds, the more certain I am that most all of my opinions are misinformed, that one cannot discern, weigh, or opine without having seen and experienced, that you cannot judge a person’s actions or beliefs without understanding their nature, that it is imperative that we explore the world, through ourselves and others, to whatever extent we can.
It is meaningful to have met Michiel. It is strange coincidence that we are travelling alike by bike and are akin in other, seemingly unrelated ways. Surely it is a rare thing!