There are quite a number of ways in which you can tour with your bike. Then there are sub sets within those when you come down to the fine detail. But, the distinction can be defined as either planned or not planned. You can, and many do, spend two years or more, looking at references and getting all the maps. Each day you will know where you intend to be and how much distance there will be between the place where you get on your bike in the morning and where you will end the day. The hotel is booked and you may even have ordered your meal and know what wine you are having.
For this part of the tour, we have done what could be described as an almost criminal lack of planning. We picked Portugal by typing the phrase, “what is the cheapest country in Europe?”, into Google. Then, about a week ago we had a look at Google Earth and were surprised to find quite a lot of mountains between Portugal and the direction we want to go. Beyond that, we did no further planning until we were on the flight here, and had a look at the maps in the ‘inflight magazine’. A glance out of the window confirmed that there was a lot of mountains and all have snow on them. Lots of it.
We changed planes in Mallorca, which we consider to be the finest cycling destination in the world. But not on that day it wasn’t. Heavy rain from a low and grey sky and 7’c. But then, about an hour into the flight, with Africa off the left wing and Europe off the right, the sky cleared. We came into land at Faro out of a totally cloudless blue sky. What a bit of first class planning. We are in the only dry, warm and sunny part of what is mainland Europe’s coldest winter in many years. Hurrah indeed.
The bikes arrived, and not only that, but they are in one piece and everything else is here as well. It is 17’c most of the day and for some moments it has worked its way up to the low 20’s, with hardly a cloud in the sky. Strangely, it has been like that for many weeks here. Long enough for people to start to worry about water shortages.
We are in a cheap, but very cheerful hotel just a few minutes walk from old town Faro. Far enough out to eat cheaply, and close enough not to require a taxi. The locals of course are wrapped up for winter and are wearing hats and gloves, whilst we walk around wondering if we should have sun screen on.
Faro is beautiful, and this far out of season, we have it all to ourselves. It is crumbling, and you have to watch where you walk for dog poo and uneven pavements. But a significant part of it is beautiful and rather photogenic. Food is cheap if you avoid the central 1km zone of madness and everyone is unhurried and friendly.
We have the usual bike touring chores to do. We have put the bikes together and checked them a bit. We then tried to find a good map and could not. We went to the Portugee’s Geographical Survey Department and failed to find a good map. We tried academic bookshops, without success. We were getting a bit panicked that our lack of preparation had been found out. But then, in a Christian bookshop we found it. Marco Polo at a scale of 1:300,000 covering all of Portugal. It looked out of place, and very much an afterthought, possibly making up a minimum order on a few ‘life affirmation books’. We could not have been more happy. Hurrah yet again.
To continue our run of good fortune in spite of a lack of planning, our stay coincides with the Tour of the Algarve. All of the big teams are here, including our very own Team Sky. Esther had been a big chicken last time we were standing next to Bradley Wiggins, but this time she managed, “can I have your autograph Mr Wiggins”. Wiggo is a nice man, and now Esther has one of her sketch books with his signature in it. There can not be a day goes by when these amazing sportsmen wonder why they could not have been just as good at football. Most made the sign of the cross as they rolled over the start line.