Day 0 : Lisbon
All the usual preliminaries, yet another photo of the Thameslink departing Bedford Station, another tight connection at Gatrow and we arrived blinking into the sunlight at Lisbon airport.
Downhill, freewheeling past the traffic towards the city, puncture, shadows lengthening, sea beyond, off again, a quick once-round the city centre avoiding tram-lines, stop, imbibe and finally to our hotel booked at www.eurocheapo.com, by DrH, of course.
Given our early start the following day, catching the ferry at 07:30 or indeed at 06:30 for PrH and MrM, the distance to be travelled, 100km, and brutal temperatures, 40C in prospect, this of all occasions was one for a quiet evening.
This commenced most pleasantly in a seafood restaurant down by the docks (ferry terminal located), and ended at 3:00AM outside a hostess club, having narrowly kept our teeth and €600.
Eurocheapo has its eponymous merits, but the red lights illuminating the bar just 'round the corner from our hotel reminded me of Kirsty & Phil.
Day 1 : Montargil
Dawn rises with rosy fingers, I rose with my very being racked by a surplus of alcohol and lack of sleep at the 06:30 alarm call.
Nevermind, the morning chill along with coffee and unsatisfactory pastries on the ferry to Montijo, sufficed as preparation for the day.
Gently uphill, crossing the emptiness on our way to nowhere in particular - not a drop of sweat was spilt despite consuming 5 litres of water.
So hot (40C was achieved) and dry was the day, that only the salt dust in the hair on my arms and ultimately cramped legs revealed the exertion.
Arriving at Montargil, it was time to refuel and rest, or so I thought.
The effort of digesting half of my dinner saw me finally crash and I dragged myself off to bed, nothing could keep me from sleep now, apart from the air-con.
I could have cried.
Day 2 : Estramoz
Another day of transit, but now going "somewhere", the first of the Marble Towns, Estremoz.
Leaving behind Montargil and its barrgem the journey was punctuated by a morning encounter with a merry band of happy clappers, and lunch in air conditioned comfort.
Opening the cafe door was opening an oven door, but back on the dusty road we passed a field of small and particularly black bullocks and any thoughts of my mortality in the circumstances evaporated.
The rest of day was the run-in to Estremoz, of which I had no real expectations, so when I had finished cursing the cobbled road and took in the view, I was back in front of the old B&W Ferguson watching El Cid.
We didn't lodge in the particularly impressive pusada, but we ate out in a fine example of the local vitreous-clad vernacular architecture under the protection of the Union Flag - breakfast on our roof terrace was pretty fine too.
Day 3 : Elvas
Time to leave the fortified isle and set sail for our next Marble Town encounter, Elvas, and on our way past the marble quarries into Vila Vicosa and... stop the convoy! Bullock baiting!
The town square transformed into a corral, with both the bull and the local populous contained therein - a fun day for all the family, complete fascination for me, and a bit of a pisser for the bull.
Thereafter our run into Elvas was routine, the arrival a short, sharp climb and through the city gate and into a bar on the periphery of a small square, the subsequent tour staggering.
This is a dreadnought of a town, encased on its hilltop by massive 18th c. bastions, and anchored to the countryside by a brutally engineered aqueduct. Eastenders anyone?
Day 4 : Monsaraz
Of all our cartographic resources, only our photocopied A5 map suggested there might be anything like a direct route to Monsaraz, but hey, what could go wrong?
DRG's palmtop, as it turned out, a freak EMP in the Alandroal triangle wiping his maps and sending him off-course to Redondo, the remaining four of us left to fend for ourselves, with our scrap of A5.
But a day to remember ensued, commencing with our morning stop, at what may be Europe's only bicycle & pram repair/ hunting and fishing supplies / cafe / hairdressers emporium, what a place, what a man!
With the road to Monseraz under reconstruction we crossed the local torrent on a bridge constructed of large-bore drainpipes and dust, passage to Monseraz assured, but what about lunch?
Another unpromising start - lunchtime past in a concrete, but well patronised, box of a bar, no food anywhere, time to leave... ...until the barman ushers us to the kitchen, no verbal comms, but after an enormous mess-tin of lamb, potatoes and cabbage and a litre of red. Satisfied x10
Next stop Monseraz, the last word in picture perfect hilltop towns...
...but no word from, no sighting of the inhabitants, the Prisoner's first day in the Alentejo.
But looking out from the town it makes more sense, it is right on the border, a sentinel on the outermost edge of the nation, if it lonely in the town, surely that's how the town feels in this frontier land.
As good as it gets!
Dinner by a west-facing window provided the last of the days views to infinity illuminated by the sun setting through the haze and dust.
The last of the day's sights were to be found in the bar on the edge of the world
Days 5 & 6 : Evora
Memory fails me, the journey to Evora has been lost, no photographic record to re-boot the offending synapses.
What do I remember? DRG having emerged safely from his episode of the X-Files set wheel in Evora a day before us, cue a couple of texts...
.."Tottyscope has gone into overload" ...attributed to being a University town, although I noticed there were a few bars there as well, and there was a decent Italian restaurant, although he would not recommend his accommodation.
Whatever else transpired on the road, we arrived in good time and met DRG in the main square prior to a drink and the upgrading of accommodation to a couple of damp, windowless rooms sharing a broken shower.
Still, that left us with a day off and extra night in what was, if not the most charming of our Marble cities, certainly the largest and most vibrant; so much so the first evening culminated in a trip to a kebab van located on some wasteland in sight of the acqueduct
The following "day off" never truly achieved it's full potential of generously lubricated indolence, descending instead into a 25 mile jaunt, around some of Iberia's premier neolithic monuments.
As ever in southern Europe, one could not help but admire how poorly maintained these monuments were, however I'm never one to miss a nice Dolmen or better still a lovely Menhir..
Above, and oh so reminiscent of a Led Zep photoshoot, Zambujeiro, Dolmen, below Chromlech, Amendres.
Amendres, have a Menhir and a smile.
Safely returned from our excursion round the archaeological archipeligo and a dysfunctional shower later, time for a biggish night out, featuring a couple of varieties of action figures...
...ourselves not included, and finishing in a bar where the doorman tried to deny us entry, but only on the grounds that he didn't think we we ready for it - "it is only for boys".
Time to retire and catch up on world events.
Day 7 : Montijo and Lisbon.
the final day in saddle and again a relatively forgettable one - mind still dreaming of marble cities, just a 100km race across no man's land and back to the ferry terminal at Montijo.
The only abiding memory of the trip not being the unspectacular pie and coffee break...
...but the final sprint to the Montijo ferry terminal to catch the 15:30.
Thus avoiding the wait for the next boat, but in 35C and now high humidity, ending up drenched in sweat to such an infeasible extent that I turned down a swift Super Bock at the bar, lest it be the last that ever passed my lips.
A couple of bottles of water, the ferry trip and my drama-queen phase behind me, I managed to fall off my bike (wheel in tram-line) but no bother - first drink and hotel acquired, a "quiet night" was very much in prospect.
And very well it started - degustation wine bar to get proceedings underway and then
onto the fado restuarant for an early evening meal and entertainment, and somewhat unexpectedly in this age of hype, very good it was too!
The entertainment almost extended from that provided but fortunately nothing came of it and off in search of Lisbon's untold riches of late-night bars we went.
The search resulted in a typical if quiet vitreous local bar being located and occupied, however the latent entertainment of earlier bubbled to the surface as a "trip to the cash machine" from which the un-named party never returned.
The rest is the stuff of legends, all that remains to be said is that all returned home unscathed, apart, in part from myself.
The wrist that had broken my fall (bike wheel in tram track) in Lisbon swelled to somewhat alarming proportions upon my return to Bedford, and a trip to A&E appeared in order.
Five hours, three x-rays, two housemen and nothing more than a bruise diagnosed later, I had missed the final evening out at the Cricketer's - groan.
I wrote the main text for this tour maybe ten years ago but, as ever, reviewing it and the photos has caused me to reflect on the time and place.
As well as the usual dewy-eyed reverie however, the passing of almost 17 years since has caused me to consider at some length how my outlook upon life had changed over that period and indeed why after 26 years I should bother with yet another tour.
The answer, despite so much water having passed under the bridge and indeed the bridge itself having been replaced, remains the same as for the first tour - the "adventure" of doing something new for every second of an entire week and doing this within the "cocoon" of the Amoeba.
Bob Feb. 2020