Between Tomar and Coimbra I passed through a large number of quaint small villages bouncing on and off the camino. Even though I didn’t meet any pilgrims I did meet a lovely old guy called Carlos as I was walking past his house. He was outside gardening and greeted me with a Guten Tag, apparently he spent a few months in Germany. He apparently greeted every pilgrim that went past, something that seemed quite uncommon given most other people’s apparent ambivalence to my trip. He picked some fresh oranges from his trees, proudly telling me that they were pesticide free unlike everyone else in the area.

Just before my goal of Coimbra I went to Conimbriga, the largest and best preserved Roman ruins in Portugal. They were interesting to walk round, with some very cool mosaics, but they made me miss Mexico and the mountain of ruins that I visited with Peter.

I sent Laura, my Warmshowers host to be in Porto, an email letting her know I was going to get to Coimbra and she put me in touch with a friend of hers called João. They had met doing an internship in the UK. He was a cyclist but had never done any touring. He was initially a little nervous, but said it would be OK for me to stay. I got to Coimbra just after the sun had set and headed to the train station where, about an hour later, we met up when he finished his training ride.

He had told me that he was quite shy and not talkative, but it’s amazing how speaking another language changes someone. He was eager to practice his English, and we barely stopped talking all night long. I was introduced to his parents, who welcomed me in and, after a toasty shower, got a large plate of home cooking and wine. Even though it was 11pm by the time we were done João wanted to make sure I went to see Coimbra, a historical university city, as I’d not be visiting the next day. He drove us down there and gave me a guided tour, but I was sleepy and fell asleep mid-tour.

In Conimbriga

João assured me that I could stay longer, giving me a better chance to explore Coimbra, but I thanked him and headed out on another relaxing day along the camino. I met a group of 3 pilgrims, 2 Belgians and a Slovak called Milos, who were busy marching along. I spoke with Milos for a while, but the Belgians only spoke French so I couldn’t communicate with them. I left them and decided to keep following the camino even though it involved a definite off-road stretch where my bike got covered in mud. On the other side of that I found a bakery, and stopped to buy some bread to go with the Lidl cheese and jam I’d been carrying. I had assumed I’d have to leave and find a place to sit down, but I was assured that there would be no problem if I wanted to make my own sandwiches there and was given a giant bread knife. I was there for over an hour, and as I was readying to go, the Belgians arrived – surprised to see me. Milos wasn’t with them, but they got 3 beers so I’m sure he was just behind.

By about 3pm I’d gone the best part of 25km even though I’d left the house around 8:30am, and met another couple of pilgrims. A Danish couple in their 60s, who had set out from Coimbra that morning. I started about 8-10km outside of Coimbra. That’s right, a couple of pensioners had managed to walk further than I had biked that day. We spoke briefly, but that stopped when we got to the albergue/hostel where they’d be staying that night.

Knowing that there was little chance of seeing other pilgrims on the road ahead, I stopped following the yellow arrows down small dirt roads and stayed on the main highway. Thankfully with the motorway not far away traffic wasn’t too bad. I had a brief stop to clean my bike, and noticed a spoke had gone on my front wheel – probably cos of my attempt to true the almost-true wheel a few weeks earlier. It was a quick fix, and a much less frustrating time than the last time my spoke broke on the way to Washington DC.

A about an hour before the sun was due to set, I’d made it to a town with a fire station. I got my credential stamped, but was told that I should inquire at the local church about a place to stay. I tried, but the only voices I heard were from a classroom that I didn’t want to disturb. I sat around for 20-30 minutes, but no-one came out. My GPS showed another fire station about 25km further along in a town called Estarreja.

I got to the fire station and buzzed at the door. I explained what I was after over the intercom, and within a few minutes I was inside being shown to a large hall that would be mine for the night. A quick visit to the supermarket across the street had dinner sorted out, and I bought some wine – at 30 cents for a 300ml box I couldn’t say no. The wine was as bad as I imagined, but the ham made for some more delicious sandwiches.

I remember editing the pictures for the rest of the previous day and my next day to get to Porto, but I must have accidentally deleted them. Oops. Laura had suggested the coastal option to get to Porto, but it was about 8km longer and as I’d told her I’d get there by 12pm I decided to take the the shorter, inland option. It ended up being constant hills, while the coast was apparently flat. Oh well.

After a bit of confusion (meeting ‘near the bridge’ when the bridge has an upper and lower part to it meant I went to the wrong place) I met Laura and we rode through the centre of Porto to her place just a bit north. She was born in Brazil, but moved over to Portugal when she was very young. She’s finishing up her PhD in Maths, and when that’s done wants to go on her own long-term bike adventure. She had an uncle and aunt visiting from Brazil and they came over for dinner for a very pleasant evening.

The next day Laura and I met up with her aunt and uncle, and their grandchild, for a day of sightseeing. They took us out for lunch, and then out to a Port cellar to taste the famous local beverage. It was amusing to see just how many of them were made by English companies, because England and Portugal had a good trade relationship in the past and so many English companies invested in Porto.