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Old 09-22-2012, 02:49 PM   #1
SpecialAgentNancy OP
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14 Nations in 30 Days: A Rather Feminine European Odyssey

Women are always sensitive about age and weight. So as I performed yoga style maneuvers while packing my equipment bag to make it all fit, also weighed it a few dozen times to make sure I was under the weight limit, it was with relief after switching items from checked bag to carry on and back again, that I reached a final weight of 22.9 kilos and off to the airport I go.

The airport scale told me 2 lbs over the limit....it LIES! But hey one more thing in the overhead bag won't kill the unlucky guy behind me as we found our seats on the airplane.

As I boarded the plane and passed through First Class, I quipped to the flight attendant serving Champagne that I would like one and he offered it to me with a big smile. Nice start....so I sipped my bubbly in coach and uttered a small prayer that my gear bag would make it on the plane, which it did. Arrived in Sofia without incident and upon arriving at Luke’s house asked for his wonderful cheese sandwich. (homemade bread, Bulgarian cheese and an insane amount of butter, pressed into neat little grilled cubes in what I can only describe as a George Foreman grill)

It wasn't until nearly midnight that evening that the boys rolled into town. It was the first time we were to meet in person and I was glad to see them. Five bikes in one small garage.



We fed them a simple meal of meat and salad and beer from a 2 liter bottle and all promptly passed out.



Danny (Dan's son) joined us on his BMW F800, Dan on a BMW R1200 GS Adventure and me on my dirty but reliable BMW F650....with Luke on his KTM 990 as leader and Rumi as his passenger and off we went through Serbia.



First stop was near a lake on the Eastern Serbian border where we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the view. I love bringing money to these small communities.



The food can be a great hit (super fresh local produce and livestock) or just plain disgusting. Today we were lucky except that it took over an hour for the food to arrive and we were burning daylight.



We raced after that to make our 2nd stop, Devil's Town and ended up on the shortest route but found it was dirt. A couple helpful locals told us it was 40 KM to the town and we all hemmed and debated whether to do it since we were behind schedule and none of us were prepared for dirt (street tires and street gear). The adventure in all of us said let's go. It was a good road with what Danny calls rivets and dividends (rocks and ruts).



Luke is excellent on dirt so he went 2 up no problem....Adam followed his line and ended up going into the ditch, when I came around the bend I saw him climbing up out of it and raced on ahead to find Luke for help. This is the spot that I stopped at to wait for the rest of the group.



Adam built a nice fire, I pulled out my portable sink and gave myself a cold sponge bath and shared some soup in Dan and Daniel's huge tent as the rain fell lightly outside. At one point the fire seemed to flare up and we were concerned it got out of control but it was just the moss on the wood around the pit that caught fire. We were close to the Kosovo border so it made all of us very nervous.



With rain clouds coming and it being almost dark, I made the executive decision to Guerilla camp here.



Next morning we arrived at Devil's town, a sort of mini-cappadocia where I met a nice Serb who spoke French and directed us to a restaurant where the woman served an excellent regional breakfast pastry made with eggs, milk, flour and cheese. A ripe melon and extremely thick Turkish coffee set us all off on a good start.





Every tied cloth, a prayer.



Devil's Town. Đavolja Varoš



The rest of the day was grueling miles and miles to try and get back on schedule. We needed to cross both the rest of Serbia and Montenegro and get to Sveti Stefan. Luke took us through a beautiful mountain pass that had ski lodges on the top and then another twisty road that was so narrow in places that the dividing line was not painted. The hobbit (that would be me) had not eaten since 9am and after an ice cream and espresso stop at 3pm embarked on what felt like the longest, most twisty road I have ever ridden. The shadows made the road treacherous so I threw Dan under the bus and asked him to take the lead and let me know about oncoming cars using our rider to rider communication system.




I will say that the intercom we used probably saved at least one of us an accident and certainly a lot of stress. Adam was not on it so we were often horrified by the blind passes he attempted while we would safetly talk each other through when it's clear. This day was very difficult and tiring for me, I was more than grateful that I had such competent and safe riders with me. Too keep things light we even laughed a bit about things like how their GPS recognized 7 turns on the whole 100km ride when there were probably 300+ in total.

We arrived near midnight and I was too tired to even eat so I pitched the tent and had a so-so breakfast. I met a Serbian couple camped next to me that offered coffee and what turned out to be extremely helpful information that got us back on schedule and afforded us one day of rest.





I spent the day on this beach and had a 25 Euro fish dinner that I saw come off the boat still flapping. It was decadent and the water cool and refreshing. Dan, Danny, Adam and Luke all went riding while I simply lay in the sand (with plenty of painful small pebbles) and enjoyed my kindle (Game of Thrones).









We rode to Bar, boarded the ferry and found our bunks....nothing to write home about but overall a good night sleep and a room as small as a meat locker and every bit as cold. (I finally had to shove my towel into the vents to try and stem the arctic blast coming from above.)



Next stop Italy.
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Old 09-22-2012, 03:30 PM   #2
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Well done guys. What a lovely country for touring.
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Old 09-22-2012, 03:41 PM   #3
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Great start & wonderful country...keep it coming!
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Old 09-22-2012, 04:00 PM   #4
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Great ride report so far!
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Old 09-22-2012, 06:53 PM   #5
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Old 09-22-2012, 07:21 PM   #6
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Old 09-27-2012, 07:13 PM   #7
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While we were waiting to disembark I found a KTM rider who lived in Bari (our arrival port) and asked him to help Adam find a mechanic to get the carburetor fixed and we found out later that this poor guy took him to 7 different shops (everyone is on holiday here) but finally found one person to help him.



Our first stop in Italy was Castel Del Monte (and en-route some ladies of the night, well morning lounging in recliners on the side of the road)





Dan got to find out if his new tire patch kit worked.



A small village stop off in the central part of Italy for lunch where coke cans are thin and sexy.



Found this cool memorial to a group of soldiers from the second world war on their way home when their plane crashed nearby.




The Amalfi Coast







We arrived at the crowded coast just before sunset and wound our way around cliff after cliff with sweeping epic views that just arrested my heart in my chest.









We also have developed code words for different things already....the Italian mopeds that buzz about you like hoards of angry bees are Kamakazi's.



Rode back inland and had to stop to enjoy this exquisite sunset



Dan arranged for a very special treat for me, a night at a military base near the Napoli airport. We checked into a very nice room, ate good pizza and had shots bought for us by some military guys getting drunk in the bar. Best of all, washing machines. Wait, not just the tiny European washing machines that have 2 hour cycles but big U.S. 30 minute washing machines and DRYERS!

My bed that night.


Dan and Daniel found their clothes clean and folded the next morning. I took a good scrub in a perfect bathroom (that included a toilet seat, I think Italians have something against toilet seats here). The next morning we experienced some city stop and go frustration trying to get to Pompeii and the bikes weren't too happy with the heat, Dan kept saying his bike was one chicklet from being too hot.

We got to Pompeii and found a long line in the hot sun to which I gave an Italian looking hand signal along the lines of 'no way'.


These are lemons!




We suited back up and headed North to our first stop, MonteCassino abbey. ( I meant to get that building corner into my shot)











I like this shot the most with the 3 crosses



Nice photo of the boys without the hoards of tourists





Stopped for a Donar Kebab and watched a guy get swindled out of an iphone. I was busy wolfing down my food like a wild cat (he he) but Dan and Danny....who BTW is a most excellent, safe and competent rider for 19. Truly, he rides just like his Father and after just a day, any concerns I had around riding with a young 'hot-head' were erased, although right now as I type this, his stinky socked feet are up on the seat next to me on the ferry to Sardenia are making me gag).





Anyhoo, Danny was smart enough to write down the license plate of the thief and when the pigeon realized he's been robbed, handed it to him. Dan and Danny both felt torn about whether to get involved. I found it very considerate that Dan asked my opinion before getting in the middle of that mess, I said that I didn't have a dog in that fight. It's a tough choice sometimes, we are here on vacation, as foreigners, and just don't know what might come of getting in the middle of a bad situation like that even though it's the "right thing to do".

We did the tour of the Abbey which is still used and has active worship and then took a great twisty road to Arpino but not before a traffic control cop flagged us to stop and after a few tense words just wanted to see our papers....we are riding the speed limit and usually a little under while crazy Italians (usually in Audi's, we find Audi drivers are the worst) wail by us like we are sitting still. Italy is in general very tourist 'unfriendly', you will see why as you read my RR.

Stopped at a gas station where I found this life size stuffed bear.


Beautiful village called Arpino.



A light rain coming



Would have loved this for lunch



Even the campsite check in lady was about as friendly as a block of ice and helpful as a nail in a tire, nor could she count. We stood there in the dark in full gear sweating while she tried to get the numbers right; we said, 3 bikes, 3 people, 2 tents....to which she said something like 2 bikes, 3 people 3 tents and then another combination of 1 bike, 3 people, 2 tents....we spent the rest of the evening coming up with playful variations. 6 people, 1 bike, 3 tents and on and on.



Danny had some fun with me and my tent that night



I asked about getting a taxi to town to eat and it cost the tourist price of 7 euro....that's ok. Had an excellent pasta carbonara but I was bummed they didn't put the raw egg yolk on top and after that wandered around the town at night and took some excellent photos.



Charming town with an old castle at the top



A gelato. The first of many to come.





One of my favorite shots of the trip


Walked back down a steep, loose dirt, dark road to the campsite and passed out at our usual midnight hour.

Woke up the next morning to walk around and see the lake. Did some twisties to a port town that was a terrible place (usally they are, dirty, expensive, small) and boarded our second ferry. It was quite comfortable though and we tried to nap and relax but all would have rather been riding. (If only snokels were longer), Arrived near dusk in Sardenia and rode to Camping Acapulco on the water. When we rode in through the camping, there was a restaurant packed with locals all drinking and laughing loudly and picked a patch of dirt near a buzzing transformer and a natural gas outlet. Toxic.

Pitched camp again at 10pm and went into the restaurant. There was another couple trying to get the attention of the waiter as we were but I was armed with French and our meal came out much faster. I enjoyed a Spaghetti Bolognese and promptly fell asleep.
The next morning I found this wonderful little beach right below us and enjoyed some excellent breakfast treats in this cafe on the campground.



Succumbed to the usual temptation of flakey, buttery croissants while the boys ate their oatmeal.



Oh OH! and I saw a shiny new Tiger 800 XC like mine!

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Old 10-11-2012, 08:23 PM   #8
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Corsica

We had to take another ferry to Corsica and came into the town of Bonifacio perched on a cliff.




Passed a lagoon with kite surfing classes going on



Then stopped at a roadside rotisserie stand and ate an excellent and hearty lunch.
Before



After



And a whole lot of french fries!



Wished I could have enjoyed some of these veggies instead, it's only the first week and I'm sick of french fries.



Decided to skip Ajaccio and head into the Corsican Mountains to Corte and through cool and lush forests with turn after turn after turn and hundreds of motorcycles. This island is a motorcycle paradise...even reserved parking for bikes. Everyone here gives the friendly hello wave and half of them are in t-shirts and flip flops.



Excellent tasting natural spring water. I also bought a bottle of Rose here.



We decided to go to the highest peak in Corsica Monte Cinto





Found a wonderful campsite by the river with a friendly staff and actually pitched out tents during daylight. I nearly took my head off on a clothing line riding around camp to get an idea of where we might want to pitch our tents.




Enjoyed some Corsican rose wine and a simple meal of salami, cheese (that some little critter stole from my bag during the night), tomatoes and bread. He’s gonna be doing the doggie butt sledding we have all seen. I had the remaining chicken breast from lunch and lay down in a clean state and just drifted off to sleep.




One more cursed, awful, noisy, expensive ferry and we are DONE.



Met this strange little friendly man in the port town who gave me some ripe plums and played a bit of guitar for me.




We disembarked hoping to meet up with Adam, after all, that was his proposed plan but no dice....so we went to camp Darby (another well organized, excellent military camp) Now I go off on a tangent. I've really enjoyed riding with someone in the military. I've generally been in full support of the military over the years even when the debates with some of my more liberal friends in San Francisco around military budgets has spiraled out of control like the car that crashed off the highway today. It's easy for a congressman in DC to say, shut down that base in Livorno Italy and we'll save $$$ but as I walked around I could appreciate all the effort that went into making a second home for US military personnel away from home. Right down to a bowling alley and girl and boy scouts clubs.

If you take 4 day weekends or even *gasp* 2 weeks off a year for vacation, you will never understand what it is to be away from all you know and cherish for an extended period of time.
You spend the first week unwinding and the second week dreading going back....I've looked forward to these two military bases with such yearning and been rewarded in spades. Tonight. A Dutch contractor (who speaks excellent English and French) who handles logistics for the US Army gave us a pork tenderloin, made a salad with all of their left over veggies and on top of that, drove me to the laundry mat when I walked by with a huge bag of stinky clothes.






We agreed to wake early....well all of us, since I always wake up at dawn (Dad you would be proud) to get to Pisa before the hordes of tourists and grumpy old men who direct traffic away from the barricades were there.
I got and email from Dad asking if the tower of Pisa was still up after I finished with it.







Then we went to Cinque Terre. It means 5 towns. What made all the hassle in reading a few dozen guidebooks over many a Sunday afternoon to create the trip plan worth the effort, was when Dan (our fearless leader with GPS) said it was one of his best 5 rides ever. For you non-motorcycle riders, it's a big deal and made me brim with happiness.





Love my $500 zoom lens!






The places we've seen today actually made me tear up a couple a times for their sheer beauty and the realization that I was truly here, doing what I envisioned just a year ago and thinking, it's really this easy. Just dream it and do it.

I was also grateful that he shared that sentiment since the road in was the road out....a big delay in our day but only because the road had caved in and was impassable. Well perhaps not with motorcycles but I had just about enough of dirt roads delaying us and scaring the heebee jeebies out of me on these street tires.




It was a twisty and I mean TWISTY road that I was doing OK on with Danny's careful warnings but for this one hairpin, uphill turn that would even challenge a car. It was about noon by now and the Hobbit must be fed, much like those Gods of ancient times or suffer their wrath, namely me.




Dan spotted a restaurant on the side of the road with some old timers sitting out front watching the traffic blaze by in 110 degree weather and we struggled to park the bikes as we always do on these narrow, steep, windy roads. What came after was a wizened woman who put up 3 fingers and walked away without so much as a menu and returned with salad dotted with succulent tomatoes and too much salt, whole wheat bread (virtually unheard of here) and a huge (and I do mean huge) plate of spinach fettuccini pasta with homemade tomato meat sauce to die for 33 euro for 3 people.

Sorry, no photos. Inhaled the food.

Gelato stop




Monaco
We got a late start but still made it to Monaco before the hoards of tourists. Someone once told me, Monaco is where the Billionaires play.




We are near San Remo and found a camp site that was *as usual* expensive but welcomed. When I rolled up my tent this morning, I noticed some ants and paid it no mind since I knew the heat would kill anything rolled up in this heat but to my chagrin, found a small army of these buggers running about furiously as I pitched camp this afternoon...Yes, that's right, we pitched camp 3 nights in a row in daylight. Since I don't want to jinx my luck I'll just leave it at that. Things however did turn bad. I had a Brazilian meal from the camp cafe that smelled wonderful but did something less than wonderful to my stomach. I am still not sure what woke me, if it was the biblical swarm of ants scurrying all over me or the pain in my tummy. After a brief shriek I got out of my tent, brushed off as many ants as I could from my body and sleeping bag and set up the cot on the ground outside my tent away from the hoard.
I was glad to have brought an alka seltzer which seemed to help keep my food down and was able to fall back asleep. Today must be 100% humidity (sweat will not evaporate off our bodies and our wet towels and clothes won't dry), it was a sleepless and uncomfortable night so I decided this morning when we set out with quite a few more ants rolled up in my tent and now other bedding that I would find a hotel at the end of the day no matter the cost.


Then I planned a route that would take us to the complete opposite in terms of weather, populations and geography through what the French called the Grand Canyon of Verdun.

Loved this lunch spot with parking for 2 wheels.






Bungee jumping



It was exquisite but hot again. Once we oogled and snapped our photos pulled into a lakeside town for much needed gas, I found a 100 euro a night hotel that put the human back into me. I gave them my sweat soaked gear for washing and proceeded to the pool.







The front desk lady was nice enough to give me a ground floor room that I could park right in front of and I charged everything and caught up on other administrative stuff and removed some dead ants from my things. (snicker)
I can't wait to have a good night sleep and eat a simple soup of veggies to calm my very unhappy stomach and sleep on a soft clean bed without ants.
The mosquitoes have made a 'connect the dots' diagram on my legs and ankles that itch like poison ivy in my hot sweaty boots every day. I hope they aren't here. It's dry and hot and not near the water, wish me luck.

Next stop was a working monastery where you can stay the night if you take a vow of silence and help with the chores.
A lavender field.










Could have been pretty cool but it was not meant to be, nor was a 15 Euro Prix Fixe menu in town.





Thankfully we passed through a city and found a local corner cafe/bar that had a 'plat du jour' (dish of the day) of salad, grated carrots, tomatoes, half an egg, slices of ham and scalloped potatoes, all for 7 Euro. It was by far the best meal we've had and the cheapest.





We then rode through some twisty roads in Southern France dotted with Apricot and Apple orchards and finally stopped at a camping near the river with a pool. (That means lots of kids) where I had a meat lovers pizza (they had me at bacon), wished I'd ordered the salad, then got into my blessedly ant free tent.




Next stop Carcasonne and some fun with the police.
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Old 10-11-2012, 08:53 PM   #9
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Looks like an awesome trip and great photos.

You can consider me subscribed
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Old 10-12-2012, 07:24 AM   #10
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What a fabulous ride!! Thanks for the detailed report and pics!! Bring on the adventures in Carcasonne!
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Old 10-12-2012, 07:30 AM   #11
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More!!!!
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Old 10-12-2012, 08:46 AM   #12
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Greeting..
Amazing RR
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Old 10-12-2012, 02:55 PM   #13
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Bring it on

Good work w the RR, thanks, loads better than any TV programme
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Old 10-12-2012, 05:19 PM   #14
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Looks like I might be inspiring some nOOb's
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Old 11-05-2012, 08:53 PM   #15
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Portugal here we come!

Got an early start and again rode an excellent, mostly deserted tiny windy road through Southern France on our way to Andorra which we've heard many good things about.
Dan has been filming a lot of these great routes with his GoPro (which I'm mostly convinced to buy now). Our first stop, Carcassone. A hilltop fortressed midevil city in Southern France.



Last time I came here, I was 19 on a $10 a day budget and roamed the tourist packed streets alone.



Neat gargoyle



But I jump ahead....there were police involved!



This time I put my internal GPS to good use and got us a decent city walking tour complete with police escort right to the front motorcycle parking where I almost dropped the bike on a tiny gravelly ramp (so embarrassing).

View from inside



We hunted for a crepe and finally found one made by a lovely lady who sold me mine for only 1 Euro because I asked to take her photo before I did it.


The rest of this day was terrible. Hot, long, boring. Around 100 degrees all day.
You people in your air conditioned cars, just be grateful for the comfort, even if you are stuck in traffic.
As the sun started to set, we turned to head up into the mountains and found a very fancy campsite with cabins and a pool on a mountainside.
Tonight, we busted out the mac n cheese. Between a long hot day, a cheap washing machine, extremely hot showers (the cold water here comes out of the tap hot) and my tripping over one of the securing lines to Dan's tent and skinning my knee like I was a 5 year old again, it was time for some comfort food but halfway through the process of cooking the pasta Dan was quite vocal about it interfering with his beer drinking.



I slept fitfully and we headed off the next morning early for Pamplona. The last time I was here, I was 25, and finally experienced what I've heard before from my elders about how much a city can change in a decade or two. I barely recognized it. A modern, apt crowded city sprung up around the old town so that it made it hard to find but no worries....a friendly local followed us honking until we stopped and asked if he could help and brought us to the Plaza del Toros where the horns on my helmet fit right in.



We enjoyed the Torta de Patatas that I so loved when I was here last. A friendly local who spoke excellent French helped me order and probably get the local's price.




We took off in somewhat cool weather hopeful that it would hold all day, which it almost did. We didn't go over 100 degrees and only went into 95+ for about an hour. The time difference between Portugal and Spain played a nasty trick on us. We thought we were an hour away from the border only to find it was 2, never the less we made it.



Our first stop in Portugal was Almeida. A fortified city in the shape of a 6 sided star with a town inside. Cobblestone streets. Beautiful gardens. And grumpy locals motioning us to slow down or perhaps that we should not have been there at all.







While we were riding during a long hot stretch, we passed many sunflower fields and their faces were turned away from the sun. When I was growing up, we had sunflower fields in my home town and we loved to watch them face the sun in the morning and slowly turn following the sun all day to sunset. So I told Dan and Danny how they behave, but this field was facing away and Dan commented on it. Adding to that how smart they were to look away from the sun....because he sure as hell would look away if he could (we were riding West all day). I have giggled a couple of days now in my helmet remembering that. It’s so important to make fun of our daily struggles, which are numerous to be sure, in order to keep having fun. This is fun right?

Anyway, Wiki cleared the confusion. When mature and ready for harvest they stop following the sun.


Our 2nd day in Portugal brought us through a natural forest des Estrellas to an old hillside town called Podiao (unfortunately no photos). We took the back way in, twisty, single lane roads with sheer cliff drop offs and the tops of the ridge lined with gigantic windmills. Very few cars and long sweeping, smooth turns. We were in heaven and the weather was actually cold, in the 50's.

We stopped at a roadside gas station that also said cafeteria. It looked abandoned from the outside but Dan busted out some broken Spanish and the local assured him there was food to be had around back of the building. None of us were too convinced but we couldn't find food all morning and it was already 2 and thought well, let's check it out.
I went first to find a door with no sign, no menu, no nothing but was plesantly surprised once I opened it. It was a beautiful dining room with tablecloths, wine glasses and a spectacular view of the forest valley below busy with many people eating with smiling faces. The food was excellent and cheap. 20 Euro fed all of us including a decadent dessert for Danny and coke in glass bottles. I'm still burping lunch....




We then pressed on to Tomar for the Knights Templar fortress and all I can say is that one place was worth it all. I've never seen architecture like this ever. I was quite awestruck at every turn and each new view. Stunning.



Our 3rd stop today was the walled fortressed city of Obidos...but we skipped it to find a camping site to pitch out tents in the daylight and we'll go back and walk it tomorrow morning early. I sit here in my tent, with my glass (er, stainless steel) cup of Porto listening to fireworks and cannon shots and marching band music in the distance as there is a festival going on nearby. The sun is setting and coloring the fluffy clouds in orange, purple and yellow, with a light cool breeze and a few bothersome ants to keep me company. This is what it's all for.



Port in Portugal....as important as fuel!
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