Out of Badajoz

I had a great sleep and was impressed by the hotel and staff. I woke up and heard Mac showering; he was in great spirits as his singing was loud and in tune for a change. The young, French housemaid we’d met briefly the night before, when we checked in, was making Mac’s bed. I thought was kind of strange as we were still in the room and hadn’t yet had breakfast. Nevertheless I got out of bed and sat on the chair at the window, the view was much better looking in than out. She really hadn’t made a great job and in my half asleep state I was expecting my bed to get the same treatment, I did get an acknowledgement but nothing more, not even a straightening of the covers! The pretty girl, with her tangled hair and now with very little make-up, just fixed the zip on the back of her dress, threw me a teasing smile and skipped out of the room.

Ugly City

We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, it was high enough up to give us a panoramic view of the city, with the impressively wide river in between.  We could see people struggling across the long exposed bridge, their umbrellas getting blown out of shape as the made their way towards us. This drab city with its mass of grey rooftops and ugly high rise buildings looked impressively bad in this lousy weather. My iPhone weather app, at every point I checked from here to Caceres was consistent, windy with between forty and sixty per cent chance of rain. Feck!

Over breakfast we discussed taking a rest day as we had a day to play with, though it may cost us in cancelled accommodation. After all, if we wanted to cycle in the wind and rain we could have stayed in Scotland and waited for the summer!

As Brian and Aldo were the two named drivers,  they got a taxi into town to collect the hire car. Mac and I agreed to take the cases down to reception and checkout. We stayed in the room and relaxed, only to be startled by Aldo banging on our door. I wondered why he wasn’t away yet! He wondered why the hell we were sitting on our lazy backsides and not checked out yet!

Against all odds, Aldo and Mac eventually set off. Despite the weather forecasts, our fears and pessimism, what seemed like a miracle had happened, the rain had stopped and the roads and pavements were drying up pretty quickly.

Big cow and grey skies
Mac thought this was a real bull

The terrain, although a little hillier was much the same as the previous two days, with some long straight roads that extended a little longer at the top of each blind summit. The guys may have been growing tired of this but their focus was more on the skies, constantly wondering whether the rain would stay away. At least until it came. It did come, the clouds threw it at them close to the summit of the day’s biggest climb. Brian and I got a great view of this from a big cafe at the side of a little town off the main road. We watched the rain with the locals as we sheltered under canopied area out front and drank our coffees. Brian now happier that he’d discovered cafe con leches but still thought it strange that I was still drinking such a small shot  out such a tiny cup. It was also at this stop that Brian learned his first Spanish word. or at least the first Spanish word that he would remember – hamburguesa, a word he would practice often throughout the rest of the holiday. Once the coffee was finished Brian, under the guise of genuine concern, drove back along the road for a better view of the two cyclists getting absolutely drenched.

We saw the cyclist onto their bikes and left Pueblo de Obando in the sunshine. How quickly it turns. In the short time it took us to find the car and manoeuvre it out of the parking area, the two cyclist were miles down the road, such was the descent. We passed them and I gave them the now customary wave out the passenger window as we headed to Caceres to find the hotel and make their drinks.

We found the AH Agora by accident, passing right by it, just when I thought I’d navigated down the wrong street. In most places we’ve passed through, if you miss your stop you have to navigate your way around the crazy one-way system. Caceres was no different. We unpacked the car and quickly made ourselves familiar with the pretty reception staff; they let us put the bike and empty bike bags in a corridor behind reception. I managed to lock us out of both rooms which was a little embarrassing but did give the girls at reception a good laugh. As we walked back to the edge of town I wondered how long it would take Mac to get even more familiar with any of them.

Caceres as a destination was very disappointing. It was the first place we were targeted as tourist. There were meal deals and pictures of not so pretty menu dishes displayed outside the restaurants. There were staff on the street trying to tempt you in. It was the night of bad food choices except for Mac, who preferred the look of Aldo’s main course so claimed it as his own. It was the night of the Copa Del Rey. It was the night that Aldo discovered Turrón.

Atlético Madrid beat Real Madrid with an goal in extra time, Mourinho was nowhere to be seen.

Into Spain

The journey from our first stop in Evora over the Portuguese/Spanish border and onto Madrid was completed in the time planned. We stuck to the agreed route, stopping at Badajoz, Caceres, Plasencia, Poyales del Hoyo and Navalcarnero. This was just as well as although I had booked accommodation with free cancellation, most times this only applied if the cancellation was more than two to three days in advance.

We only have a few rules on the European Extravaganza. The latest one being handshakes all round before the start of each journey. We have kept to this every morning and after lunch each day. This new custom outside the hotel in Evora on the morning of day two was tough. It wasn’t tough because I didn’t wish the other guys luck, I did, I wished them the best of luck. It was tough because I didn’t have my cycling gear on and I was feeling so damn sorry for myself. The decisions we take in life are ours to make, though I can call on the influences and opinion that surround me, the choices are mine. If I get it wrong, I have to live with it, hopefully learn and move on. I am making it all sound like I’m cool about it, but my decision not to previously cancel or postpone my involvement in this stage was kicking where it hurt.

I awoke at six that morning in Evora with my mind racing. I was thinking of the practicalities of getting home and the reasons for staying. In the end I’d like to say the reasons for staying and being with the guys and supporting them and enjoying the trip was the defining factor of why I stayed. But I didn’t really need to ask myself too many questions on that, as getting a return trip from Madrid home (I had a second holiday in Madrid organised straight after the cycle trip) would prove too much of a financial burden. So having not entirely moved on yet in my mind, I decided to enjoy the rest of the journey and get to know the madman driving the car.

The planned route from Evora to Badajoz was 63 miles and was straight and relatively flat, much like day one. The journey was pretty uneventful, Brian hadn’t hit any pedestrians today and the guys never fell off their bikes when I frightened the hell out of them, shouting from a slow moving car, which was only metres behind them. I didn’t mean to startle them but I think they saw the funny side when they met us a few miles up the road and their senses of humour had returned. And they didn’t let me forget it for a long time on the journey, and after.

After dumping the gear in Badajoz (a big city on the Spanish side of the border), we returned to Elvas (a not so big city on the Portuguese side of the border). Elvas was a pretty walled city, with winding cobbled streets and lots of charm. Although the Casino Hotel in Badajoz was luxurious, by far our best overnight stop on the journey, the city itself was everything that Elvas was not.

Aldo and Mac had another straight forward ride and they seemed fresh when we met them for lunch in Alandroal. They most likely passed through Elvas while we were dropping off the hire car as we drove passed them on the taxi back to Badajoz. They looked for a landmark or sign post that would mark their arrival into Spain but nothing existed along the roadside, they drifted into Spain without noticing. The closest to this that we saw was the overhead sign on the A5 which read ‘ESPANHA 0.5 KM’, which Brian found pointless and hilarious.

Badajoz – Bad Superman

On our second time arrival at the hotel (after dropping the hire car off) our Portuguese taxi driver, who never attempted to converse with us the whole trip, declared – words to the effect or as far as I can remember – ‘Here now Espanha! The City Espanha’. We both laughed at his broken English but it struck me how I must sound in my near non existent Portuguese or broken Spanish

Badajoz didn’t open until ten o’clock, well at least any restaurants that we found. Except for a Chinese that we found after walking for ages. We were all so hungry that Aldo Brian and Myself helped ourselves to Mac’s special rice while waiting for our own.

Brian noticed the drains were emblazoned with a big S that looked like the Superman motif and decided to play the part.

Lisbon to Evora (well nearly)

Don’t ever be tempted to go cycling in Lisbon! I’m sure, given time to explore, it is a lovely city. But what a nightmare to navigate and balance with it’s cobbled streets, tram lines and hilly terrain. We had two crashes within a few hundred metres from the hostel, mine was due to getting trapped in a tram line after being forced into it by a car edging out a side street. Mac just fell, lets blame the cobble stones surface. Luckily no more damage than a scratch to my knee and a graze to Mac’s.

like two exited little boys
Boys on the ferry

The ferry trip was uneventful, except for getting off a stop too soon. But we had little problem picking up the route when we entered Montijo, two miles later.

I took the up pace until lunch time to a little town called Vendas Novas, about thirty miles inland from the ferry port. When I say ‘I took up the pace’, read the others stayed behind me, if they went ahead there was the possibility of leaving me behind. I like to think of it as making sure they don’t go too fast too soon.

After eight miles, despite the easy going, my knee was already starting to bother me. I did try to ignore it but it only started to bother me more. I even tried to use my left leg only for pedaling, my right just to be carried with the motion. Not sure what I was thinking, even if did ease the pain I couldn’t cycle the other three hundred and ninety two miles just using one leg.

Brian found us a place for lunch, we ordered in fluent Portuguese but the staff didn’t quite understand, so in our best finger pointing, slow and loud speaking English, we ordered jamón roll and drinks. Oh yeah, and an ice pack for my knee.

The roads since we left Montijo were of a good surface and they continued to be that way as we set on the road to Montemor-o-Novo. The weather had improved from an overcast start in Lisbon to a warm sunny afternoon. There was a freshening wind which blew, mostly in a favourable direction but occasionally smacked us in the side and blew us further into the hard shoulder. This wasn’t a hard shoulder as such but a space between the painted lane and the edge of the road surface, which we rode in mostly as it seemed the sensible approach to staying alive.

The sign says it all
The sign says it

Halfway between today’s destination and lunch was a Montemor-o-Novo, where we agreed to meet Brian. My optimism said I will cycle the whole day’s journey, my realism and the now constantly hurting pain in my right knee said I’d be lucky to get more than a few miles further. The ice seemed to seize up me knee but after a few painful turns it started moving easier but the pain was much the same. So our rendezvous with Brian was more than just a coffee break catch-up but a support stop and a likely close of play for me, for the day at least.

Despite my discomfort I was enjoying the cycle, even more now the heat of the afternoon was on our backs. But at the foot of the climb up to Montemor-o-Novo I stopped for what I thought was going to be the last time for the day. I discussed this with my cycling buddies and Aldo agreed to get Brian to come back and collect me when he met him in the town. I crossed the road to wait at the junction under the shade of an orange tree and parked the bike against the signpost and waited. Our support driver, surprisingly, was nearly at Evora, our final destination for the day!

He had stopped a couple of time including once at Montemor-o-Novo. Not sure why he never waited for us, possibly because he got angry as every time he orders coffee he only gets a tiny espresso cup! He headed back and I cycled up to to town to the agreed meeting place. We packed the bike into the bike bag and re-arranged the luggage in the boot and headed to Evora. We reached the hotel just minutes before Aldo and Mac, who made very good time on the final leg of the day.

The hotel staff were very friendly and recommended a place to eat, ‘the best in town’ the boy said. And I believe it was. The waiter at the restaurant nodded and said ‘good, very good’ at each of our choices from the menu, and our choices did in fact turn out to be very good.

What else? Of course Benfica got beaten in the Europa Cup final by Chelsea, so no party.

Aldo is also blogging the journey, so if you want a review from a real cyclist, read it here

No turning back now

At Airport
Mac and Aldo hanging around

Eleven thirty on Day zero, lunch at my place. Aldo turned up in the guise of a scout leader with his detailed pack of the journey. Thank heaven someone is organised. Mac looked fresh despite competing, and getting a PB at Sundays etape Caledonia.

Getting to Edinburgh was easy and uneventful, getting from Lisbon Airport to the Digs was not so.

Brian flew into Lisbon a few hours before us. And it only took us two hours after arriving to get the car, get it packed and reach our first night’s accommodation. I jumped in the car while MAC and Alan got the taxi. Being Brian’s passenger and navigator around the narrow streets of Lisbon was an experience, scarier for him than it was for me, I’m sure.

Good digs, good food but way passed my bedtime.