Portuguese Rhapsody

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It is rare that I take a two-week vacation. I did it last fall when I traveled to Croatia to explore Dubrovnik and bike around the Dalmatian Islands. I enjoyed that so much that I contracted the same bike tour company for a trip to southern Portugal.

We began our trip with almost a week in Lisbon - Portugal's capital and largest city, exploring the neighborhoods, taking tours (by boat, by bus, and by something that looked like a golf cart), and listening to Fado music - a Portuguese tradition of melancholy ballads. Lisbon has a rich history, influenced by the Romans, the Moors, and a series of European kings before becoming a Republic in the twentieth century. The entire city was nearly destroyed in 1755 by earthquake, tsunami, and fires before being rebuilt in a short period - something it shares with my current hometown of Chicago.

While staying in Lisbon, we took one side trip to Sintra, which is less than an hour's drive but has a completely different feel. Mountains surround Sintra, making the climate wet and the landscape green. This was a common getaway destination for Portuguese royalty, so we toured three "palaces" in the area. One so-called palace was built in the late nineteenth century by a Brazilian merchant and featured beautiful gardens.

On Day 6, the tour company picked us up and bused us to Evora, where we began our biking tour. Each day consisted of eating and biking and eating and biking and eating. I am trying to convince myself that it was a zero-net calorie week, but I may be kidding myself. We averaged 20-25 miles per day biking, usually through the countryside to a small city, where we stopped for lunch and sometimes for a tour and history lesson. The most memorable stretch was the last day in which we traveled along the Guadiana River and ended up at the Atlantic coast on the southern shore of Portugal. Every two nights, we moved to a new hotel in a new town - the most delightful of which was the Villa Monte Farm House in Moncarapacho.

We spent our final day in Cascais, an oceanside town a few miles west of Lisbon. Walking around the city was relaxing and the most memorable thing was the Boca do Inferno ("Mouth of Hell") - a cave opening to the Atlantic on which the ocean waves violently strike.

I was satisfied and ready to go home when we departed on an early morning flight. 

I have not yet decided, but I am fairly certain a two-week vacation with a bike trip is in my plans next autumn.