I’m not sure if it will continue to make sense to record my Camino daily on this blog, but everything here is trial and error so why not?! I have to mention a recommendation right at the top: Wise Pilgrim app! You can select any route of the Camino and so long as you have data on your phone, it has GPS tracking all along the route. Plus info on each town you will pass through and where to find food, groceries, bars, WiFi, a place to sleep, and links for much of the above! This app is the best!
Before arriving to Europe, my plans focused on completing the Camino Frances- the 800km (500 mile) hike from St. Jean Pied de Port across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. But after arriving here, I decided I wanted an extra week to travel around southern Spain, and an excuse to see Portugal. So I changed plans and opted for the Camino Portuguese. This post is about my first week hiking the Camino.
Day 1: Coimbra to Mealhada-Sernadelo (25km)
For the Portuguese route, most people start in Lisboa or Oporto (Porto). I wanted to do a bit more hiking than just beginning in Oporto (not to mention, an extra week of exercise will be very good for me! Time to drop the 5lbs I put on during my first 3 weeks in Spain), so decided to begin in Coimbra.
I started my Camino on 28 June, leaving Coimbra around 8am for the approx. 25km (15.5 mile) walk, and arrived to my hostel around 2pm. I stopped for a coffee break and apple for breakfast, and kept a very relaxed pace. While most of the day was along roads and passing through villages (some of which are home to almost palatial homes! and an uncanny number of luxury cars!), there was a good bit in a eucalyptus forest. And definitely fully in wine country!
Aside from one small blister, today was great and felt pretty easy! The overcast sky helped a lot. Best part was time in nature, and meeting Brett and Trevor from Tasmania, and Ieva from Lithuania. Thank you Residencial Hilário for a great place to stay and friend introductions! And for offering a vegetarian option for he Pilgrims lunch; I was a bit worried when I walked into the restaurant and saw you cutting off a pig’s head for a customer that this may not be veg friendly. But veggie soup and a salad, fries, and an omelette! So much food in fact my late lunch was enough food for dinner too!
Day 2: Sernadelo to Águeda/Mourisca do Vouga (30-31km)
Today was a mixed bag. 95% of the day was awesome! Couldn’t fall asleep until 1am (WTF?!) so slept until 6:30am and was on the road by 7am. Apart from the first 1km in the woods, today was a a trek purely on paved roads, and through a lot of industrial areas. But I still enjoyed it. I met and walked with Jean Marc from France for the first hour, then he went ahead while I stopped to take photos. Another day of stunning houses! And fields of wildflowers. Bumped into Julie for the 2nd day in a row- teacher (former RN) from Oregon. It is funny, no matter what pace you go at, you do seem to bump into the same people frequently. Had my morning break at this quaint cafe, run by a grandma who was playing cards with her granddaughter, and didn’t stop again for food until I arrived to Àgueda. And one of the true high points of he day came about 2-3km before Àgueda: a man in a van pulled up next to me on the road, asked if I was heading to Santiago and when I replied yes, he handed me a care package/baggie with a bottle of water and 2 apples! Made my day!
I was still smiling and glowing, thinking about the kindness of strangers, when not 30 seconds later the terrible 5% experience of the day happened. There was a guy sitting in a parked truck across the road and started talking to me. I assumed he was also asking me about my journey, but he was speaking only in Portuguese. After a few minutes I realized, he was asking me to jack him off. He was a big guy, and a truck, and I was on the road without any other people and the nearest village was 1km away. I said no and discussed and walked away, and thankfully he did not follow me I drove in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, I failed to get his license plate number, so when I reported him to the police there was little they could do. Probably most disconcerting of all was when the police strongly advised me not to walk alone. Before arriving, I had done so much reading on the blogs and incidents on the Camino Frances are super rare. But it appears that incidents like mine along this route are increasingly common. I am willing to deal with the physical pain and discomfort (the blister that started yesterday morphed into a giant today, LOL) but I am not willing to risk sexual assault or worse. Thankfully, I met a good group of people yesterday Who are on the same schedule as me for the next few days, so I will be sure to stay with them. But I am seriously considering leaving this route, and resuming my hike in Spain midway through the Camino Frances, where I will be safe. Spending the night just a few km past Águeda because of the friends I made yesterday; though if I had not met them, the hostel in a greater would be a much better place for socializing and hanging out.
The day did not end on a bad note though! I had the most spectacular lunch in Àgueda at 43 Sushi-Wine Bar. Got miso soup, veggie egg rolls, and 12 of the most delish veg sushi rolls I’ve ever had (all for 8.80€).
Thanks to Brett, Trevor, and Ieva I had a really great night in the town. Lots of eating and drinking and laughing our way through a small bit of downtown. Had dinner at a pizza place that was AWESOME! The people were so friendly and wonderful, we had great service, and the food was YUM!! (I had a margarita pizza, probably at least 10”, and it cost only 4€! And my fishbowl I’d wine- see photo below- was only 2.50€. Everyone else had pasta and said it was great too!) If you find yourself in Àgueda, I also recommend a stop at Pizzaria Suprema. This little town is quite the foodie spot!!
Day 3:Mourisca to Oliveira de Azeméis (31-34km)
To avoid walking solo anymore, I joined Trevor and Brett for the day. Which meant a 5:15am start time. This was a long, tough day, with quite a few hills; everyone was hurting. But it was also a beautiful walk. It was too dark to get photos of some of the small castles (nearly!) we passed early on, but got some nice shots as the day went on. And more than half of the day was spent in nature, not on paved roads!
Day 4: Oliveira de Azeméis to Malaposta (17km)
After such a long day 3, we decided to keep Day 4 short. Only on the Camino is 17km a “rest day.” No photos from the hike this day; due to threat of rain I had my iPhone packed away. We were able to get two rooms at the Hotel Feira Pedra Bela (only place with accommodations before Grijo), which had a huge salt-water pool and a jacuzzi. GREAT way to recover from several long days of hiking. But even after an hour of doing laps in the pool and a bit of time in the jacuzzi, a shower, and getting dressed, it was only 12:30pm. So we took a taxi into the nearest big town, São João da Madeira (21,000 people!) and had quite the day exploring the city’s bars. At the first stop I ordered Sangria with champagne and, separately (so I thought) three glasses of red wine; the bartender brought out four giant glasses of Sangria, three with red wine and one with champagne. Their anger dissipated after one sip. So good! Then we ended up at Taberna Do Ze to watch the World Cup and stayed for a few drinks beyond that. Brett took about 20 photos of Ieva and me, not one of which was flattering, but all of which are hilarious. And I’m not too good to make fun of myself so enjoy!
Day 5: Malaposta to Porto (27km)
I skipped the last three hours of drinking in Malaposta, so I may have been the only one to wake up not still drunk. Ha! It was pouring down when Trevor and I left at 6:30am. And the rain didn’t stop for at least two hours, though it slowed down after the first hour. My saving grace for the day: dry socks. Turns out that even if your feet are completely soaked from water, it still helps to put on dry socks. Trevor even loaned me a pair of his for the last 2 hours of the day (as my 2nd pair had become thoroughly soaked too). Much of the day was on paved roads, in particular the very common cobblestone roads that look charming and are pure hell to walk on for long stretches. Ha! But some lovely bits through the forest. And when we arrived to Porto we discovered that we (and by we, I mean me) booked the most BALLER Airbnb (*pats self on back*). Then Brett and I did some shopping. Unbelievable what 50€ can buy you here!
I have walked about 133km over the last 5 days and apart from some really persistent (and really painful) blisters on my right foot, I feel great! Absolutely love Portugal, its scenery, its food (best fruit!! and food definitely beats the Spanish- sorry Spain), and its people (minus the rare perverts). But I will not be returning for the rest of my Camino here; for safety reasons, and also to work on my Spanish a bit more, I’ll continue with the Camino Frances in Spain. Great opportunity to do a bit of each trail!
IN & AROUND OPORTO
The first evening in Porto, I was smart enough to listen to Olivia as make reservations for dinner at Jimão Tapas e Vinhos. Super charming atmosphere and brilliant food! (I ate YUM and creative vegetarian food, but no shortage of seafood and meat options.) I highly recommend a visit if in Porto!!
The next day I had another Airbnb Experience reserved, this time for a wine and cultural tour to the Douro Valley. Pedro is a former engineer who decided to switch careers, and we should all thank him for that! Because he’s a beautiful conduit for everything good about Portugal. This tour was a highlight of my trip to Europe so far and I would advise anyone who wants a wine tour of any type to book this (Pedro, the owner/tour guide is very kid friendly). On Airbnb it is “Douro Valley- Palace, Winery, & Boat.” He also incorporated so you can find his business online (and Facebook) at NorthOnWheels. DO IT! I also stuck gold with the others on the tour for the day: the most gorgeous (seriously, they are ridiculous) and nice Canadians (but aren’t they all?!), who I adore and can’t wait to connect with again in the future! Pedro was also kind enough to take photos of all of us during the tour, so I have some fun non-selfies. First stop was in Amarante for breakfast and to explore a very old church.
Then it was onto Mateus, Vila Real, for a tour of the palace and its stunning gardens, which include SO MANY fruit trees and bushes you can eat from!!
Then we headed to Favaios to have lunch at the Avessada Winery. Had some incredible food and enjoyed some lovely wine, before we set off for the next stop: a boat tour of the Douro River in the heart of Port wine country.
We finished the day at Croft Winery in Pinhão, before making the 1.5 hour car trip back to Porto. It was a very full, and incredible, 12 hour day. (And all of this for $150!!) Kudos to Pedro for some gorgeous photos at the last stop too!
Next up: taking a few more days break from the Camino to head up to Pamplona for the Festival of San Fermin (running of the bulls)! Spoiler alert: I will NOT be running.