Tented Travels. Portuguese Tours and Tribulations.

After having explored the area around Ancora and its beaches and experienced an eventful time in Porto [as described in last week’s post] we determined it was time to up tent poles and meander southwards down the coast.

There is as much of an art to dissassembling tents as there is to erecting them-more so sometimes. The borrowed pyramid tent was large and we were only beginning to get a technique for using it, especially folding it small enough to cram into the bag. When we came to collapse the tent ready for folding we discovered, to our horror that the beautiful conifer that had provided our shade in this corner of the site had also dripped unsightly resin all over the pale beige canvas, leaving it stained and blotchy. We were horrified. This tent had been kindly loaned by one of Husband’s colleagues. Whatever would they think of us returning it in such a terrible condition?

Perhaps the elderly Portuguese neighbours who’d been so ready with the advice we didn’t understand had been trying to tell us this all along?

For now though, there was nothing to be done so we packed up and departed to have a look at some more of Portugal, winding up at the whimsically named Figueira da Foz, which was then a modest seaside town with an attractive sea front and of course, beautiful, surfable waves. I believe that, like most places Figueira has undergone significant development in subsequent years but then it all seemed quite basic and unspoilt.

After we’d settled we wandered along for an evening drink at what appeared to be the only seafront bar. The night was breezy and the prom almost deserted, but there were lights on and as we pushed the door and entered there was only one group of revellers inside-a family enjoying a birthday celebration. We sat down to enjoy a glass of wine, making for a table a little apart but soon we were sucked into the revelries just as if we were distant relations, and plied with slices of birthday cake.

At the time, there were few sites near enough to Lisbon to make it easily accessible, but we could drop into the beautiful old city for a day en route south towards Portugal’s corner, which we did, strolling the lanes and gazing at the iconic funiculars and elevators. This first visit to Lisbon was quiet and untroubled by traffic whereas a subsequent trip saw us mired in gridlocked jams and breathing in noxious fumes during an open-top bus tour. How times change!

On we went to Sagres, in the south west corner before the coast turns into the popular Algarve. Here it was wild and breezy. We camped in a small, wooded site and were delighted to help out our young, Portuguese neighbours with the loan of a tin opener! At sundown people congregate to watch the sun set on this furthest west point of mainland Europe, perching on the rocky clifftops above frothing waves. It is a lovely place.

We bimbled [Husband’s word] along the Algarve, avoiding the high-rise hotel developments where possible and eventually on back up through Spain and France. At some point we had to pack the ill-fated pyramid tent wet and discovered it had torn in a couple of places. Horrors! Now it was stained, wet, torn and sporting gaffer tape. Stopping at a motorway service station we removed it and attempted to dry it out, with limited success. There was no way we’d be able to return it in this parlous condition. We’d simply have to buy the kind lenders a new one-and keep this one….which we did!

The Rain Across the Spanish Plain

Sometimes exploring an area in depth can make you realise how woefully ignorant you are, that there are so many world heritage status places you’ve never heard of-or at least-that I’ve never heard of.

Portugal’s Evora is one of these.

We took a couple of days’ beach break, just down the coast from Lisbon, at Caparica, where Lisbon-dwellers come at weekends for sea and sand but precious little else, Caparica being Lisbon’s equivalent of Southend on Sea. On the camp site you could have been fooled into thinking it was snowing, if the temperature hadn’t been 28 degrees, so much fluffy seed was blowing, blizzard-like across the site and settling, ankle deep on the ground or in heaps of white fluff inside the van.

Next, Evora.

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This walled medieval town is a pristine vision in white and ochre, packed full of whitewashed churches, monasteries, ancient university buildings and a wonderful, 15th century aqueduct which begins low, at the top of the town and lengthens as it descends. Homes have been made between the arches:

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The town is quiet, the gift shops awash with knick-knacks, but few buyers. I take pity and buy a small, red, cockerel embellished wine cork for a gift. There are a few other tourists. Did they, like us, stumble upon Evora? Or did they research it at home and make a special pilgrimage here?

For reasons that can best be described here

we need to turn towards the north and make our journey home. As yet it isn’t urgent but I’m aware that it may become so. We set off towards the Spanish border and Badajoz, which we’ve passed by on occasions but have been told is worth a visit.

The weather, never reliably sunny this trip turns overcast once more, but the journey is beautiful-rolling hills and vast cattle ranches, the road quiet and peaceful and we arrive at lunchtime.

The aire at Badajoz is brilliant; easy to locate, a convenient situation just across the River Douro from the town and services all provided free. Little wonder it fills with vans by the evening. We wander across the attractive footbridge, through the gate of the city wall and across towards the ‘Alcabaz’, the citadel which dominates the town from a high vantage point above the town. By this time it is raining and with an afternoon to spend we fritter some of it in a cavernous bodega.

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A return to Spain means a return to tapas, a variety of tasty snacks offered with every drink. Though we’ve lunched it seems rude not to stay and enjoy the fare-and it is raining outside the bar. Badajoz’s cloistered square is beautiful.

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Zipped into raincoats we brave the rain to stroll around the domineering Alcabaz, then it’s back to the aire, where some local residents whose house adjoins it have decided to share their music with us. Freddie Mercury’s vocals are blasted for an hour or two, but since I’m not averse to a bit of Queen myself I think it could be a lot worse…

Next day it’s on to Valladolid, where we make several circuits of the one way system before locating the motorhome parking bays. It’s a quick stopover and our sincere apologies to the parking authority for our inability to pay the 9.50 euros fee, but having managed to retrieve my bank card from the machine when it was stuck I didn’t feel up to giving it a second go!

Onwards and upwards…

 

 

 

 

Turning Portuguese

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The first time we visited Portugal was with a tent, a giant, swish ‘pyramid’ tent that we’d borrowed from Husband’s colleague. I had to crawl in and hold the central pole, getting hot and sweaty while Husband hammered the pegs in outside. On a site at Ancora [north Portugal] where an interested neighbour ‘advised’ us on where to have our doorway, we pitched under some sap-dropping trees that stained said tent for ever, resulting in our having to buy the colleague a brand new pyramid tent when we returned. [We’d also torn the fabric attempting to dry it out in a French motorway services car park].

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This was also the trip when we visited Porto by train from Viano do Costelo, buying return tickets and discovered on our return to the station to get back, that the train ‘does not return from here’. We had a wonderful, dockside meal and returned on a ‘milk’ train, from a different station at about 2am.

During this and subsequent visits, with various vans we’ve done the major must-sees of Portugal: Porto, Lisbon, Guimares, Coimbra, Sagres, Faro-

Mostly we’ve found the west coast to be more pleasant and less developed than the Algarve, but there are exceptions.

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Portugal, like Greece is one of those countries that never fails, with luscious countryside, beautiful historic cities, reliable, warm weather, delicious food [including the famous ‘pastel de nata’ custard pies], a gorgeous coast line and friendly people.

We find Lisbon much changed, with the addition of hideous cruise ships blocking views and throngs of tourists everywhere. Our previous visit was quiet and we were able to stroll the narrow lanes without stepping around selfie-takers. To anyone intending to visit Lisbon and considering an open top bus tour I’d say, ‘Don’t!’ You pay 11 euros to inch along for hours in stifling traffic, a woman wailing Fado songs in your ears. You get to see very little and anything of interest is zipped past or around before you’ve got your finger on your camera shutter.

I can get no purchase on the Portuguese language whatsoever. Spoken, it sounds eastern European with lots of sch, z and cz. Written, it looks remarkably like Spanish and meaning can often be deduced. We know we must take care not to speak Spanish to the Portuguese in spite of so many words being similar, nevertheless Husband is inclined to say ‘gracias’ instead of ‘obrigado/a’ for the first few days. My own knowledge of Portuguese is restricted to ‘obrigado/a’, ‘Bom dia’ and ‘ola’ so it is fortunate that almost everyone here speaks English very well indeed.

The Portuguese are fond of tiling the outside of their homes, which can look beautiful or tawdry; railway stations, hotels, churches-no building is safe from this treatment.

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And neither are the bone-shaking, tooth-grating streets, which are tiled in cobbles.

The Portuguese countryside is strewn with cork oak trees, the cork continues to be harvested and goods such as cork handbags can be seen in the shops. Perhaps the backlash against plastic will see a resurgence of the cork industry? It does seem to be a versatile material with useful properties: lightweight, water repellent, attractive.

In recent years, wildfires have decimated much of Portugal’s forests and evidence of this is everywhere.

Orange and lemon trees abound, in gardens, parks and along the streets. They are all hung with tons of fruit which nobody seems bothered to pick, the ground around the trees littered with fruit just as the plums lie fallow in Gloucestershire.

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Before using the [very quiet] motorways you must register your bank card and attempt to forecast how much toll you will be using, which is tricky. Otherwise you can register at the first ‘portagem’ [toll booths] but then you’ll have no clue as to what is being deducted.

We’ll soon be leaving Portugal and crossing back to Spain-but I’ve no doubt at all that we’ll be back!