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Head east, don’t die (part 1)

Portugal’s capital, beaches beckon


Page 2 of 3

While bicycle touring, and even trekking, in Europe is not the most original adventure in history, we were still without concept of how long our journey would take, as most cyclists stick within the lush, winery-rich areas of Brittany, Provence and Tuscany. By hugging the Mediterranean Sea and exploring the sometimes alarmingly arid south of Portugal and Spain we hoped to make our journey distinct. The downside was the reality that we would have little or no information to pace ourselves. We would bike as hard as we could between major cities, recuperate for a few days while taking in the cultural sights, sounds, and smells of each of these cities and, ideally, this would take less than the 102 days before our scheduled return flight from Athens.

We settled in Lisbon for a few acclimatizing, jet-lag recovery days to begin.

Lisbon was nearly completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, and the modern city is mainly a product of post-quake rebuilding. As is common in ancient cities that have recently experienced major catastrophes, Lisbon’s buildings are relatively uniform in age, style, and size. A view from the Castle of São Jorge revealed a homogenous canopy of red-ribbed tile roofs. The castle itself, situated on the highest of Lisbon’s seven plateaus, was only fully restored and renovated to its present glory in the 1940s.

From ground level looking up, the influence of the Moors on Lisbon can still be felt, though Christian Reconquistadors ousted these North African rulers nearly 1,000 years ago. Clotheslines span alleyways, and one can’t help but feel a character in an Aladdin -esque cartoon. Alleys are enclosed by buildings that seem to gradually grow together, getting progressively closer until they nearly converge at the top, leaving only a sliver of light to cast shadows on the cobblestones below.

After experiencing this optical illusion, dining on salted wild boar at a restaurant sprawling into the streets of Lisbon’s pedestrian-only downtown, and spending countless hours contentedly lost amidst basilicas and soothing public parks, we felt the urge to progress. Lisbon’s passionate inhabitants, who heroically humoured our attempts at Portuguese, set the stage for what promised to be an enjoyable, if not leisurely, journey across Europe.