Monday, June 12, 2017


It's hot in Portugal today, real hot.  With the temperature hovering around 100 degrees, castles are the last thing we would be interested in climbing around.  So looking for something cooler do do, we climbed in the car and drove to higher ground.  Our B&B is in the small village of Mesquitela, which just happens to be a the bottom of the highest mountain in Portugal.  At just over 6600 feet we figured Mt. Torre would be somewhat cooler.  Well it was, but not by much at 90 degrees.  We did manage to get out and walk around some and we did see some beautiful mountain scenery and we mostly managed to stay cool.  Driving on Portugal's steep, narrow, twisty roads is plenty entertaining in itself, but to make it even more exciting, add some Portuguese drivers.



I have written before, on trips to Europe, about driving in foreign countries.  Of course there is somewhat of a learning curve when navigating in new places with different rules as can be expected.  Signage, after a little study, is pretty easy with just a few exceptions.  Of course there is the added bonus of many of the signs being in the native language.  I particularly like the one sign in both Portuguese and English that I saw today after beginning the steep decent down the mountain.  "Try your breaks now".  "Why now?  Shouldn't I have tried them before I started down the hill?"  For many Americans, the traffic circle or roundabout as it is locally known takes some getting used to.  Get in the inside lane in a busy city, you might not ever get out, but for the most part once you get the knack of it, it's pretty easy.


Here in Portugal as you enter any city, town or village the speed limit becomes 50 kpm or about 35 miles per hour.  There are a few surprises sometimes, like a raised crosswalk, that if you're going too fast will get you and the rental car alignment specialists attention.  Also Portuguese towns come with a signal light at various locations.  No intersection or crosswalk, just a signal that manages to turn red just as you approach it.  At some of these you may sit there a while wondering "why the hell have I stopped here?"  They are there to slow you down.  "Ok, I'm going slow now, can you please turn green?"

The most exciting aspect of driving in Portugal are the Portuguese.  Usually am tootling along doing the speed limit.  The Portuguese don't do the speed limit, unless they are driving a tractor. I can see them in the rear view mirror approaching at warp speed.  If there is room, I get over as I wouldn't want to slow them down.  But in most cases they arrive at my rear bumper and begin to draft.  I try to identify the make of the car, but they are so close that the brand emblem on their grill is not visible in my mirror.  Under normal circumstances they pass.  Normal circumstances have a different meaning to the Portuguese.  Blind curves, cresting a hill, and vehicles smaller than a semi are all normal and passing is acceptable.  If for some reason they can't past, they just stay there, about two feet behind me, saving fuel while my slipstream pulls them along.  If I slow down to get over, I risk them joining me in the back seat.  So I just maintain my speed until such time as they see an opening and they zip past me.  Then I pull over and get my heart rate under control.  If I'm lucky enough, I have pulled over in front of a bar.  Did I mention that the Portuguese make really good wine.


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