Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 6 - The Short Cut

We woke up in Batalha to the sound of church bells outside our window. The little abbey next door made quite a racket. Tom and I decided it had "little church syndrome" and who wouldn't with The Cathedral across the way.

We were the first in The Cathedral that morning, pleasantly surprised to have it nearly to ourselves and with free entry since it was Revolution Day. I do not have words that can describe our experience adequately. Awe inspiring grand spaces. Stone ceilings so high they seemed impossible. Does gravity not have the same effect in these places? Brilliant stained glass casting bright butterflies and stripes of light on the walls and the floor. Stone carvings so delicate, how did the stone not fracture? All of this done with technology that is more than 500 years old!

Try to imagine what life would be like to live as a worker during the construction. You'd be born into your job and die before it's completion.

We left Batalha to head to the mountains. On the way, stopping at a Roman ruins site. Awe inspiring in a different way. Walking on stones, worn deep by people who walked there as many as 2000 years ago. Coming from North America, it's hard to grasp.

We decided to stick to larger roads to get to our fancy hotel in the mountains sooner rather than later. This is not really in keeping with our road trip style, we usually much prefer to get off the beaten path. As we got closer to the mountains, l asked Tom if he'd like to take a "short cut". He looked at me skeptically and asked if I was sure I could navigate us through it, especially given our somewhat serpentine route the day previous. I was confident, so off the beaten path we went.

Now, before I go further I feel a need to defend my decision. Everyone told me that there are no real mountains in Portugal and the roads on the map looked pretty straight. Well, l am here to say that there are serious mountains in Portugal, they may not be tall but they are really steep and the roads look straight on the map because they wind so tightly it would be impossible to map it. Instead they just draw a line in the right general direction. Add this to the fact that there are a million little towns to get turned around in, built in impossible ravines with seriously inadequate signage and you have a recipe for disaster.

I will save you the gory details but in summary:
An extra 2.5 hours traveling time
Roads with grades up to 16%
25% of these roads single lane
Traveling speeds often as low as 25km/hr
1 goat herder complete with herd in the road
Sheer drop offs with no guard rail
The most beautiful villages I have ever seen

We arrived at the fancy H2otel later than planned but much richer for the journey.


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