Friday, April 26, 2019

Coimbra to Mealhada

Although we got in near midnight last night, and weren't able to check out until 9 am, we nevertheless woke around 7 am. Outside the city was bathed in the soft light of early morning, and the cathedral on the hill was partially hidden in golden mist.

We had a slow start, enjoying hot showers, packing our bags, and heading out to the street below for a breakfast of coffee and rather sticky, sweet chocolate croissants.

When all this was done it was still only 8:45am, but the kind hostess let us check out, and we were soon heading up the steep cobblestone main street of Coimbra.

The walk out of Coimbra was a bit chaotic. The streets were very busy with cars pedestrians on their way to work, and delivery vans loading and unloading merchandise on the sidewalks. Although The Way is well marked, within the city limits the markers are stylish, understated, brass plaques sunk into the cobblestone sidewalks. While aesthetically pleasing, these markers are very difficult to spot from a distance, especially when the sidewalks are busy and full.

At the edge of town we sported Peter and Sue for the first time in a couple of days. They were with Rita, but almost immediately we parted ways, as she headed over a bridge rest of didn't cross due to an arrow we belatedly saw. That was the last we saw of her until we met again in the albergue, and apparently it was the beginning of a misadventure for her, albeit one with a happy ending.

After leaving the city behind, the trail wound through small villages, and what felt like suburbs. We climbed for much of the morning, occasionally getting quite nice views of the city and surrounding hills behind us. One thing we've been enjoying are the animals we see in the suburban areas, and today we stopped for a few minutes to watch a small group of goats.

As we walked we encountered large groups of pilgrims heading south on the Camino, presumably to Fatima. Over the course of the day we must have passed about 50 of them. Many were on foot, with quite a few of those dressed in white rain ponchos and bright neon safety vests, but there were also large groups of enthusiastic and friendly cyclists. This was a humbling reminder that not everyone on the The Way is going to the same place, or for the same reason. It was also a bit of a mystery, because although we have been seeing a steady increase in the number of pilgrims over the past couple of days, we don't see nearly as many Portuguese pilgrims in the albergues as we see on the road.

We stopped mid-morning in a nice small village for a couple of pears and a coffee.  It had a nice church, and a nice view.

In the afternoon we had to climb one steep hill on the shoulder of the N10, and there was a lot traffic on it, including a lot of transport trucks. This was a bit unpleasant, but thankfully we were soon routed on a dirt track though gardens and a partially forested eucalyptus forest.

The afternoon passed pleasantly enough, as we made our way through several more villages, one of them decorated all the way through with red and white flowers, and colorful banners above the street.

The final stretch into Mealhada was a downhill track through an olive grove and some vineyards. We heard a Cuckoo calling as we passed through, which was kind of nice.

Eventually we emerged from the quiet olive grove into the suburbs of Mealhada, which seemed loud and busy. It felt like a long walk through town, first through a slightly sketchy looking area, and then down a nice main street with lots of bars and restaurants. It seems this is a wine region,
that also specializes in roast suckling pig.

The albergue we are staying at is 1.5 km out of town, so we got a preview of things on the way through. For anyone staying in this albergue, I would recommend doing any shopping for tomorrow's breakfast, or any afternoon snacking you might want to do on the way through.

The albergue is gorgeous, with lots of beds and private rooms, a covered courtyard to sit in and do laundry, and a clothesline. The owner is also very nice, and there is a restaurant and snack bar out front. However, the albergue is located on a busy road heading out of town, which has a lot of restaurants, and brings to mind the strips outside small-town America.

We got in and soon discovered that most of the group we have been travelling with are here, including the two French ladies, the Italian, Peter and Sue, the Scandinavian lady, and the South Korean couple. A nice reunion.

Once we were settled we headed to the snack bar for a sandwich and beer. We then decided that I should head back to town for breakfast supplies. An hour later I returned with several pastries, a couple pears, and some cookies for tomorrow. We then headed out in search of dinner, and found only options suitable for carnivores. So, we decided I would head back to a bakery/pizzeria we passed by earlier and get a large vegetarian pizza. This turned out to be a delicious decision, although it was the first time we had encountered corn on a pizza.

After dinner we went to collect our laundry from the line and discovered that because we got in so late it wasn't yet dry. So ... you guessed it, we walked back to town to the laundry to dry everything out.

By the time we went to bed the Fitbit said I has walked 48, 256 steps. I'm pretty sure that is a record for me do far.

Accommodations: Hilario
Distance: 23.1 km

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