It was a relief to pull into the pleasant city of Tomar which marked the end of the mountains and the gateway to some easier, if hotter, riding. Tomar has an old centre of narrow cobbled streets that radiate from a central square that's paved like a giant chessboard. Overlooking the old town is the majestic Castle Templar, the last ever construction at the order of the Knights Templar. Many of the buildings in Tomar have beautiful tiled facades and host designer shops and trendy cafes.
As I cycled south out of Tomar, the landscape of steep, forest-clad mountains and terraced vineyards gave way to a pancake-flat landscape of olive groves and scrubby pasture - a parched land with rocky escarpments the colour of IrnBru and sparsley-dotted spaghetti-western towns. But this was great riding.
There are a couple of very endearing things about Portugal that I've forgotten to mention so far. First of all, in parks and squares the public seating is set up in little sociable clusters to allow people to sit together and chat. Compare this with, say, stern rows of seats in Princess Street Gardens. Secondly, many of the churches don't just chime the hour, they play a little tune. Though this always has you racing for your wallet, thinking that the ice-cream van has just pulled into town!
If Tomar was a pleasant city then Evora, my next stop, was a stunning one. An ancient settlement that once vied with Lisbon to be the country's most influential centre, it remains wrapped up in its solid city walls. Within its maze of streets are a cathedral, Roman temple, aqueduct, churches and lovely little surprise squares with fountains and cafes. A few more days of fabulously flat riding took me to the sting in Portugal's tail. Just when you think the mountains are behind you, the Serra de Monchique provides one last big climb before you descend into the Algarve and Portugal's southern coast.
The last stop before my sister's house was the busy seaside town of Lagos. I cycled along its smart waterfront esplanade, passing the expensive yachts and motorboats in the marina. It may have been tempting to hang around here and bag a millionaire but in my crispy T-shirt, sweaty cycle shorts and odiferous trainers, my chances were probably slim!
After a few more miles of easy pedalling, I was pulling into my sister's village of Burgau. I didn't know where her house was but at the first street I peaked into there was a row of colourful balloons spelling out "Pauline" and the welcoming party of my sister and my mum and Dougie whose holiday coincided with my arrival. It was really exciting and a bit emotional to at last arrive at this distant point that I'd been cycling towards for months. And I was relieved to arrive safe and well at the end of the European leg of my trip.
Burgau is a pretty little village, set around a sandy beach in one of the coves that provide a break in this otherwise rugged coastline. A steep, narrow road leads down to the beach where a few small fishing boats are pulled out on the slipway and a couple of colourful cafes overlook the Atlantic waves that crash into shore. My sister's house is a few minutes walk from the beach and is currently quite full - Karen, mum and Dougie, my niece Jessica, the cat and two dogs. There's Hamish, the pedigree black labrador, and the mongrel rescued with her family of starving feral dogs. Her name is Maggie May but my sister also calls her the "field rat dog" because she's still a bit wild and, like feral dogs from the fields, is constantly foraging for food and will eat absolutely anything. After three months of camping across Europe in woods and fields, developping an insatiable appetite and spending my days foraging in supermarkets, I can relate to Maggie. I think in a couple of weeks when I have eaten my sister out of house and home, she'll be calling ME the field rat dog.
Next blog - the bicycle diaries prize-winning competition.