In Braga: planning our next steps - Vuelta a Iberia - CycleBlaze

September 28, 2019

In Braga: planning our next steps

A new plan

I awoke this morning feeling significantly improved.  Still congested, still burning through the TP; but I slept soundly, my head feels clearer, and my enthusiasm and sense of optimism are gradually returning.  Throughout the night I intermittently woke up, thought through options for how to resume the tour, did some research, and then slept on it a bit more.  By the time the scrambled eggs and coffee hit the apartment table I had a plan worth sharing with The Team.  In a hastily convened summit conference we reviewed the plan, found it to be perfect in all aspects, and by unanimous consent formally adopted it.

Here’s the plan.  It’s based on a few specific considerations: we have a fixed date in Astorga, where a small but critically important mailed package is waiting for us at our booked hotel; we have lost some time in laying over here while we watch the state of my cold, and can’t really keep to schedule without doubling up days somewhere; I’m still not well, so we need to continue taking it easy for a few days more at least; and we’re tired of Northern Portugal’s cobblestones.

We’re lucky that Braga is on the Portuguese train network.  It’s the last stop on a spur east off the coastal international route between Porto and Santiago.  In my research, I established the departure times for the spur and coastal lines and concluded that bikes are accepted.  Also, there is a Spanish line from Vigo to Madrid that passes through Astorga.  It too looks like it will accept bikes on at least one of its departures, but from the Renfre website I can’t tell which.

We decide to take the train tomorrow morning from Braga to nearby Nines, and transfer from there back to Vigo.  Rather than trying to cram the whole itinerary into one day, we’ll stay overnight in Vigo and catch the train on the following day to Ponferrada, a significant historical town that is the last stop before Astorga.  From there, we’ll commence biking again assuming my health is sufficiently improved.

And, since we’ll be chopping several days out of the route we had originally planned, we find new stops beyond Ponferrada to add some back in.  It’s easy to do, because this is a target rich region that looks great for cycling.

The plan for today is for us to hang around the apartment until checkout, and then move on to our next spot and leave our bikes and luggage off for the day.  After that, Rachael will take another long walk into the hills while I go down to the train station to verify that we can take bikes on the train and then spend the rest of the day wandering through the city.  Since we’re confident that our new plan will work we also make booking changes, including procuring a room for tomorrow in Vigo and the day after in Ponferrada.

Rachael implements her part of the day’s agenda by getting in another challenging 12 mile hike into the hills southwest of town.  I’m not clear on where she went, but from the photos she returned with it looks like a fine walk.  (An aside: Rachael is gradually becoming a better photographer, don’t you think?  Now if we can just encourage her to take a few notes we could describe what she’s brought back for show and tell).

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Checking out the train to Vigo

Trust, but verify, the Great Man once advised.  It looks to me like bikes are allowed on all Portuguese trains, but I decide to go down to the station today to verify it.  The departure is early in the morning tomorrow, and we don’t want any last minute surprises.  The station is only a few hundred yards away, and I enjoy a leisurely walk through this interesting city on the way.  It’s a beautiful sunny day, and even though I’m still at partial strength it’s great to feel enough pep to look around and appreciate it.

This is the view from the front door of our apartment. Not a bad one to step out to in the morning. We’re sorry we couldn’t stay here a third day.
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I like this dragon fountain in front of our apartment. It reminds me of the one in Ljubljana.
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The Arch of the New Gate
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Braga is the third largest city in Portugal.  Sophisticated, a university city with the youngest population of any city in the country.  I’m confident that the agent at the train station will speak at least a bit of English and be eager to be of assistance.

The agent doesn’t appear to speak any English whatsoever.  Furthermore, he’s bored, impatient with the interruption, and wishes I’d just go away.  With the help of Google Translate though, I convey that I’m trying to get to Vigo with bicycles.  No soap.  He denies that is possible, though I could take bikes going the other direction, south toward Porto.  This makes no sense to me, and I don’t have  much reason to believe that he knows what he’s talking about; but it’s the best evidence I have.  Discouraged, and suddenly feeling the effects of my cold springing back to life, I trudge back to our room to research the alternatives.

Renting a car seems like it would work well.  I look up the local rental agencies, and discover that they closed for the weekend (today is Saturday) about an hour ago.  I consider a taxi, research what the rate might be, and conclude that it would be unreasonably expensive.  Finally the most obvious option occurs to me - the bus.

I look up the bus schedule on line.  There are two runs per day from Braga to Vigo, and they take a limited number of bikes.  You can theoretically reserve bike space online, but it appears there are no spaces available for at least the next three or four days.  I decide to walk over to the bus station and try to find a real person to discuss this with and get a definitive answer.

At the ticketing window I find the beautiful woman shown below.  Patient, interested in my situation, willing to help, speaks limited English.  Everything you can hope for in a customer service agent.  She doesn’t know herself if it’s possible to take bikes on the bus though.  She starts by taking information from both of our passports so she can begin the ticketing process, consults the website repeatedly, alone and together with her colleague.  A long series of frowns, quizzical looks, sidebars and shaking of heads occurs, while I stand by watching and hoping.  This lasts for perhaps twenty minutes.  Finally, she picks up the phone and calls CENTCOM in Lisbon.  After further lengthy conversation she asks for our passports again, starts over, and sells us two tickets for Vigo on the 9:55 departure.  I point out that the tickets say nothing about bicycles, but she says it’s no concern.  Lisbon agreed, and the driver will know.

Before leaving, I ask if I may take her photo.  Oh, I’m not so beautiful, she says shyly.  I disagree.

Our Lady of the Bus Terminal. Beautiful, don’t you agree?
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So with that behind us and our plan on track, I spend the next several hours wandering through central Braga.  It’s a beautiful place and one I’m glad we’ve had the opportunity to visit, even if I’m not sure about it as a cycling base or destination.

I walk back toward the apartment and am about a block away when I receive a call from Rachael.  She’s standing at the door, waiting for me to arrive with the key.  I can almost see her already.  Perfect timing.

The Garden of Santa Barbara, in front of what I believe is the archbishop’s palace.
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In the Garden of Santa Barbara
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In the Garden of Santa Barbara
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In the Garden of Santa Barbara. I’m not sure what’s happening here - is he putting a hex on his sister, or is he making a raspberry sound on his arm?
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I’m not sure where this is, but I think Rua Dr. Justino Cruz. Even the walkways are colorful and attractively patterned here.
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A colorful pair in pastel
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In Braga
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Somewhere in Portugal
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The Church of San Marcos
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A detail of the Church of San Marcos
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I was right! The roasted chestnut vendors are out.
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Jen GrumbyGlad Jack Frost is not there with them, nipping at your cold-afflicted nose!
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2 months ago
I like this - it’s the shadow of the tower above, reflected off the windows behind me.
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Another reflection of Braga.
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Raio Palace, also known as the House of the Mexican. So flamboyant - it looks like it could be a Gaudi creation in Barcelona.
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The Raio Palace
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Living wild
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The Braga Cathedral is one of the most important buildings in the country. Unfortunately it’s closed now so we’ll just admire a bit of its facade.
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The Braga Cathedral
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The Braga Cathedral
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For dinner we walk back to the Santa Barbara Garden to eat at the same fine restaurant we dined at the first night here - Alma d’Eca, an elegant and surprising place that combines sushi with traditional Portuguese fare.  Sitting outdoors, we toast to our new plan and my gradually returning health.  We enjoy a fine meal, and my only regret is that I fail to get a good photo of our waitress, a lovely woman with a radiant smile who reminds me of a young Juliette Binoche.

The Archbishop’s Palace again. Just before sundown, a number of small bats were flitting above the garden.
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There’s some sort of baroque festival that’s been taking place here in front of what I think is city hall.
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Set break
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