Man, the Portuguese really know how to party. Apparently Daniel and Raquel put on a particularly good show, but even a fraction of that kind of partying on a regular basis would necessitate some serious training for the liver.
We started at about nine in the morning with an outdoor buffet laid out by Daniel’s mum. Beer, wine, suckling pig and fried nibbles were all I could work my way through over the few hours spent catching up with guys I knew from London, and meeting some of Daniel and Raquel’s school friends, and no-one’s plate or glass was left empty for more than a few seconds. I’d gone to the party expecting to have to stand in the corner and entertain myself a bit, but between the guys I’d met the night before and our mutual London friends, I was kept entertained all morning. I suppose it helped that the older generation Portuguese guys there had heard about the crazy Londoners biking their way to the wedding and were happy to mime their way through conversations.
Eventually everyone was stuffed and started making their way to the church. A huge Late Gothic monastery in Batalha, I’ve been reliably informed that it’s impossible even for locals to host their wedding here so how the guys managed to wrangle it I’ll never know. Raquel did say that since she grew up in the shadow of that place it was going to happen there or not at all, so maybe her stubborn enthusiasm was too much even for the Catholics. While everyone was heading towards the church we jumped in the car with Bruno and drove to pick up his girlfriend Paula – one of Raquel’s bridesmaids. We arrived just as Raquel was coming out of the house, bustling around with last minute preparations and apologising for not meeting up with us the night before. After watching her climb into the cherry red mustang they’d hired for the day and head to the church we jumped back in the car and followed.
By the time we arrived Daniel was already at the alter. It’s a strange experience seeing friends get married in what’s essentially the Portuguese equivalent of St Paul’s, as tourists mill around taking pictures while the ceremony goes on. The priest kept the sermon mercifully short, given that I’d been warned about three hour services. Obviously I didn’t understand a word, since it was in Portuguese, but it seemed mainly to consist of stern lectures on the benefits of staying within the church, broken up occasionally by a pretty cool string quartet playing hymns. Luckily they omitted the dodgy lyrics that usually accompany these things. The vows exchanged and papers signed in a side room, Daniel and Raquel walked out of the church, as the quartet launched in to a rendition of the Star Wars theme!
Outside we milled around in the sun, smoked and chatted while photographs were taken, then back in the car with Bruno and Paula for a typical bit of Portuguese style lunatic driving to the reception. A nice grass patch bounded by a shaded brick pergola hanging with lupini beans gave us a chance to get out of the sun, and a hexagonal stone gazebo serving as a bar was quickly engulfed by guests. I had a few beers to start with, planning to pace myself and wait until everyone else was drunk before tucking in proper. More meat platters were passed around as Daniel and Raquel arrived in the mustang to much fanfare.
A few more drinks in and we noticed that the garden had cleared out as everyone moved inside to find their seats. We stood by the blackboard trying to work out where we were sitting when we noticed some frantic waving coming from table two. I guess the London collective had been grouped together. I won’t go into loads of detail, because it would take pages and pages to describe all of the food that was laid out, but we started with an amazing five course meal, each paired with a different wine. Afterwards, over a coffee and a bit of digestion time the couple wandered round, chatting and introducing people to each other, and bending to a Portuguese tradition of the wedded couple meeting for a kiss when guests start pounding the table. All very quaint, but it gave us a chance to get some good pictures with the disposable cameras that had been left in the centre of each table. Of course the photos got more epic as the night went on and the wine flowed…
Once we’d digested enough to move, we headed out to the back garden, sporting a pool, jazz band, bouncy castle and another well stocked bar. I immediately settled in next to the latter and started throwing back the caipirinhas, and plenty of people followed suit. I have to admit things got a bit fuzzy after that, but there’s a painfully detailed photo gallery that shows me sharing cigars and pimms, posing for some cheesy wedding pictures and watching the guys cut the cake (actually a pyramid of cupcakes). A few hours later, we were called in for another three course meal, followed by a buffet!
Towards the end of the night the guests started to thin out. I’d spent the last few hours sitting in the corner nursing whiskeys and watching the troopers who were still on the dancefloor, but eventually it was time to head off. We got a lift with Daniel’s godfather who’d offered us a spot to crash on his couch, after stopping off at Daniel’s place to drop off some leftovers. Once we got there, we figured we might as well stay with the bikes and save everyone the hassle of getting us back there in the morning so we drunkenly laid out our sleeping bags on the lawn next to the bikes and passed out.
9am and we were woken up with a coffee. Daniel’s mum was preparing another buffet breakfast in the courtyard, and had been checking on us periodically for signs of movement. Just time for a quick shower before people started arriving from the neighboring houses and emerging bleary eyed and hungover from various rooms. The party was soon back in full swing, with beer to wash down yesterday’s leftovers and a chicken and orzo soup that did a great job of curing the hangover. And of course out came the iPads with plenty of embarrassing pictures from the night. Once we’d caught up with everyone, it was time to pack up and head off. One last beer for the road and with a worryingly large audience, we jumped on the bikes, wobbled up the drive and pointed our noses towards home.
We only had six days to get back to London, so we’d be sticking to bigger roads and with a lingering hangover to deal with we figured we’d just do a few hours riding and make camp early. Just the one stop for water (no food, since we’ve eaten a week’s worth in the last couple of days). Cruising through Coimbra we were reacquainted with the country’s incendiary tendencies as the fires had reached the roadside and had started slowing down traffic but we eventually found a nice spot to camp between Coimbra and Viseu in a forest just off the main road. We’d soon settled in, opened a bottle of port and marked up our route for the next few days and we had started writing our diaries when we heard a fire warning siren in the distance.