Day 27, Part I – Bravães and Ponte de Lima

Day 27 – April 7, Saturday

At long last, we managed to get up early-ish (about half an hour after David wanted to, because our alarm didn’t go off). Our journey to Ponte de Lima first went through Vila Verde (which had ungodly traffic) up towards Ponte de Barca, where we made a detour to Bravães to see a little Romanesque church we’d read about.

That’s the full width of the church. It’s tiny.

The church, São Salvador de Bravães, was built – depending on who you ask – around the 12th century, at the request of a rich man from Porto. The facade is plain, but the decoration at its main doors is considered an exceptional example of Portuguese Romanesque art. You’ve got monkeys; you’ve got oxen; you’ve got Christ carried by two angels. I loved it.

One of the things that is considered exceptional is that the fairly-crude artwork was left alone. In many churches, the facade would have been redone over the centuries, but this tiny parish church is just as it was… give or take some years of erosion.

After our quick photo stop in Bravães, we continued on to Ponte de Lima. We parked on a random side street, then looked in vain for the tourist office. We finally found a woman who could tell us it was in an “stone tower, antiga” and could gesture that it was over there somewhere, so off we went.

See the stone tower on the right? That’s the Turismo. Now you know.

Unlike Guimarães, this tourist office was incredibly helpful. We got a map of the town (written-on, of course), directions to an internet café (for me) and to a bike rental shop (for David and Quinland).

Even with the map, I could not find the café as it had no signage at all, so I had to go back to Turismo and get more specific directions. On the way there and back, I got to walk through that great big open-air market, so it was no problem for me! As it turned out, the café didn’t have the wi-fi I wanted after all, so I just read a book and sorted photos in Memory Manager.

(We interrupt this post to mention that the vacation park lobby I am sitting in to get internet service here in the Netherlands has a) many small noisy children, and b) a machine with “The Claw” that plays “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.” The small children keep losing to the claw, noisily; there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth and – as far as I can tell – gloating by the children who actually had some luck. It’s kind of driving me insane.)

For David and Quinland, getting the bikes in Ponte de Lima was a bit of an adventure. Not because of lack of signage; there was a very prominent sign with a big arrow that pointed directly to … a parking garage and a hallway leading to some restrooms. They prowled the area looking for something that looked remotely like a bike rental office, to no avail. Finally they asked the parking attendant who said, “Rent bikes?” and then opened a secret door to a room full of bikes, which he rented.

They had a fantastic bike ride with incredible views of the town and its namesake bridge.

When they got back, we returned the bikes and then stocked up with fruit and pastries at the market before we left. We didn’t buy any souvenirs or useful goods at the market; David doesn’t want to buy anything that is not consumable, because of Ryan Air.

As we headed out for Viana do Castelo, we realized that Quinland still had her bike lock key. We headed back in the general direction of the parking garage / bike rental when suddenly we saw the woman we had returned them to walking along the road. Q jumped out and gave her the key, and it was smiles all around.

Stay tuned for more about Viana do Castelo!

To indulge, or not to indulge. That is the question.

Teatime
Photo by torekimi

I had a dream that this trip would be the impetus of a physical transformation for my family. We would walk everywhere, eat fresh healthy food, and return to the U.S. as happy shadows of our former selves.

So far? Not so much.

On the contrary, we are constantly surrounded by food temptation. We have tried, wherever possible, to cook fresh, healthy food at home and only eat at local restaurants once a day, tops. But even when you do all that… The drinks that you have to order! (By “drinks,” of course, I mean beer. It is Europe, after all. At home, we would just drink water, mostly because we are cheap, but as an added benefit, it’s healthy, too.) The pastries! The snacks we are offered when we visit or play games with people! The cool stuff you see in the supermarket and want to try! It is very hard to resist the temptation.

And, I ask myself, should we even try to resist? Food and drink are intrinsic parts of the culture that we are here to sample, after all. We can’t get them at home, so why not enjoy them while we are here?

Argh.

See, I believe that getting all three of us to the healthiest state possible is of utmost importance, so every time we indulge, I feel guilty. There’s nothing like trying to enjoy the cuisine of a foreign land while hating yourself for doing so, let me tell you.

David and Quinland are not burdened with this guilt. To be more specific, they are not burdened until I scream out “WHY do we keep DOING this?!” while we munch on stroopwafels while playing a board game. (True story. I scared Quinland half to death. You can always count on me to make family togetherness time a real pleasure.)

I keep reminding myself that this trip is a special case. Most people can go on vacation and overindulge for a week or two and think nothing of it. I, on the other hand, need to think something of it. I have been moaning to David about this dilemma, and in very excellent “Let’s solve this” style, he assures me that there are still two months left and we can mend our ways and get perfectly fit and healthy by eating nothing but protein and vegetables except for the pastries and beer that he still wants to sample in every country.

In other words, you will still be able to recognize us when we get home.

Daily Check-In:

I’m grateful for bike rentals. I get a little internet time while D and Q are out riding. Of course, most of it has to go to finding a place to stay in Paris, but I can pop in here and try to get something written. A little “Me Time,” you might say.

Keeping house away from home

It’s a tricky business, being away from home for so long.

The last two weeks have been especially hard, since we are staying somewhere that doesn’t have internet access. To write this post, I had to walk around a lake and sit at a small table in the lobby of the vacation park where we have rented a bungalow. The bungalow is fabulous, but not having Wi-Fi is killing us. (I apologize to everyone for being incommunicado for so long. What little time we get online has to go to either Quinland’s homework or to travel planning. Next week should be better.)

This bungalow is 125 square meters, or about 1250 square feet. This is ENORMOUS! Besides three bedrooms (a big bonus!), we have a mud room, a dining room with a big table, a storage closet, and even a patio with patio furniture. The kitchen is fully equipped, even down to vases for the flowers we purchase at the village open-air markets. (It is the Netherlands, after all.)

I am amused by how fun it is to keep house in this bungalow. I am enamored of the little kitchen with its four-of-everything crockery and silverware, and of having a broom closet filled with cleaning supplies. It makes me happy to get out a broom and sweep the floor, and know that I have a dustpan and whisk broom – and a lidded trash can – to finish the job properly. I like having my own salt-and-pepper shakers and my own little box of Ziploc bags. I like making the beds and folding the clean clothes and making everything neat and tidy.

Traveling like this, for so long, has really made me appreciate space. Space not just to spread out, but space to put things away. Having the mud room to keep all our empty suitcases in has been a dream come true after having them in the room with us for sixteen weeks. It makes it seem more like we are living, instead of just traveling.

The three of us seem to have hit some sort of wall this week. We are weary of all the transitions. We have moved ten times in sixteen weeks, and it is really just too much. Staying in one place – especially here in Nijmegen, where we are having a wonderful time – is so attractive, but we don’t have the luxury of doing that in any Schengen country as we are rapidly running out of days. I suppose it is just another way that the trip will help us appreciate being home that much more when we finally get there.

How do you make yourself feel more at home when you are on the road? Does it help to put your suitcases out of sight? Or do you take it easy and just let everything explode everywhere, as we have done in a few places? Sometimes, when a place is too small, there hardly seems to be a difference between “put away” and “not put away,” right? I’m getting a little nervous for Paris, where I know that our place will be less than half the size of this one! Yikes!

Daily Check-In:

I’m grateful for the hospitality of the Dutch! What an amazing welcome we have received here. It was so nice to spend time with our friend Dick and his family, here on their home turf.