Last night I thnk we really got the hang of the wood fireplace and had a really good hot fire going before we went to bed. Then worried that a piece of wood might roll out onto the floor since there was no grate ir fender - but also not much to burn in the stone casa. In the morning, it was all burned out. We packed and ate breakfast with Isabel. Miguel was hurrying off to see his mother. Isabel said that he was unemployed and had now got a job in Timore. He is leaving on the weekend and his contract is until December. If it is extended, he will stay longer. Portugal is an "old country" and there is no work here. It was sad to hear how difficult things are for the people here.
We walked across the bridge and headed east on the other side of the river. The first thing we saw was a big Sunday festival going on with men and women in traditional dress selling food to local people. Then it was farewell to Ponte de Lima and up the Ecovia pathway. (Ecovia refers to the path being ecological.) There were a few people walking dogs on the path and quite a number of cyclists riding along in groups wearing their spandex cycling gear - the Sunday morning cyclists I think. They were quite friendly - calling out "Bom dia." The weather was cloudy and the river was very full. The path was actually quite good - not too many puddles until we got to one low section where it was - yes- completely flooded. The only way round was to climb up about a 20 ft bank and walk along the edge of a field. At that moment a group of cyclists came by and there was a lot of shouting and splashing as they paddled through the flood - definitely half way up their wheels Our trail guide was not very complete - missing some signigicant features and not being clear about others. We think we should tell Julie that she needs to do some work on the northern guides. For example, it would be helpful to have all significant features (such as a huge under-construction bridge) identified so you knew where you are - since when you are walking alone and have never been there before it's hard to figure out how you are doing. We ate bread and cheese and natas by the trail and ran into some rain and one huge downpour. Thank goodness we had put on our green plastic by then.
Finally we reached the end of the Ecovia and after a bit of a walk on the busy road, we were in Ponte da Barca. This town is named afer its old bridge which was actually made of a string of boats (barca). There is a story of 9 people dying when they were fleeing across the boat bridge and overloaded one of the boats. The town seems quite small - but our "hotel" is huge. It is a large imposing stone manor house built on the side of a hill overlooking the river. The directions were to climb the steep cobbled road beside the igregia (church) where we found a set of old green doors with a buzzer. We rang and eventually heard sounds inside and someone came to the door and let us in. He was fairly young and only knew a few words of English - mainly "follow me." Which we did - up stone and wood staircases, down stone halls with mysterious doors and eventually to the doors to our room. Inside we found a large anti-room (normal sized hotel room), large bathroom and huge bedroom with all sorts of antique furniture. There is a good heating system and the floors are wood - so it is much warmer than our casa. The ceiling is about 20 ft high and we have 3 big windows with wooden inside shutters. As you can see in the photos, the bed itself is an antique. We were also shown the breakfast room, the sitting room and the huge billiard room - plus taken down several flights of open stairs in a sort of a tower to the main door to outside. It really is a most amazing place - and sadly, I think we are the only people staying here.
We had a rest, cleaned up, ate chocolate cookies and beer since we had not found a kettle or fridge and then went out to a lovely restaurant by a stream for a big dinner. Again - no-one else there but us - but I think maybe others had been in for a big lunch - since they had run out of fruit salad. The waiter spoke very little English - but like many others we have met - basically communicated to us in French. While eating dinner we heard from the TV that Sarkosy had lost the French election. Many people are very worried about this and wonder what it will mean for the European Union and Portugal.
Tomorrow is Mike's birthday. I hope he has a good day. We are supposed to find a taxi to take us to the beginning of our walk up in the mountain (hill) tops. I wonder how we will do that and how good the walking directions will be. Also - it seems to have cleared up again this evening - will it rain again tomorrow? And where will we find stuff for lunch? And is the restaurant really closing until June (as we thought the message in the window said)?. Oh the joys of being a traveller in a strange but lovely land. So good night from our castle in Portugal.