around Portugal & onto France
Saturday, 10 June
We visited four old cities which spoke of historical old town's and they would have been rather nice if first of all you do not have to go through beautiful white villas and apartments blocks but I guess that is the price of progress, people with disposable incomes, the price of housing in the UK compared to these areas people would be foolish not to get out of the English winters in exchange for the better climate of the South of Europe.
We spent a quiet night on a piece of waste ground just off the N.125
Sunday, 10 June
We had a quick look through the old city and so we now say farewell to the coast and head north to a city called Serpa.
The thing we have noticed about Portugal when we compare to Spain is that it is greener and therefore looks cleaner, this could be because it faces the Atlantic and not the Mediterranean and consequently possibly get some rain being blown in across the Atlantic than what they would get in Spain.
We incidentally did get 10 minutes of rain today which perhaps backs up my theory.
A lot of the drive today from Lagos was through quite a busy road, did not qualify as a motorway, most of the way it was tree-lined, often with eucalyptus trees, later we started seeing cork trees that had been harvested for their bark, Portugal of course is the world's largest exporter of cork bark.
Now that we are away the tourist area we're starting to see real Portuguese villages, often very old, I guess a lot of the very small ones we have seen are single rooms, some we saw were so low I would not be stand up straight in, a far cry from the luxury villas being built on the coast. We saw quite a number of old windmills that had been used in the past to grind grain and when we reached Serpa there were about 20 massive grain silos to handle the modern wheat production.
We could probably camped overnight inside the Serpa Castle, they did have a very large parking area, but I chickened out at driving through the Castle gate which was just wider than the motorhome assuming you lined it up squarely.
Monday, 11 June
In the morning we went into Serpa walked inside the castle walls, saw all the old houses, saw a lot of the old houses for sale, saw a lot of the old houses being updated with electricity, not sure if the updating could run to toilets because I would not think the Moors built the castle, had heard of 20th-century plumbing.
They had an aqueduct built around the 12th century, running from what I presume was a well about 100 m from the Castle, and they had devised some system to lift the water over 20 m high, being a Monday of course everything was closed in the tourist information department.
Driving on the secondary Road took us through several villages that were spread out along this semi main Road, the first village we went through was probably spread out over 2 kms and we noticed a lot of men of retired age standing round talking, and a lot were sitting outside a cafe talking, and I guess they would be there for the rest of the day.
These villages appeared on this Road about every 15 to 18 km which is the distance someone once told me that a man can walk with a group of cattle or sheep in a day.
So having taken all the photos we wanted we onto our next destination which was Monsaraz, a large Castle on a hill, again built by the Moors, and interesting feature of the houses inside were the lowliness of the ceilings which emphasised the small a statue of the people over 500 years ago. Again when we had finished our photography we moved on to Elvas, we had been assured that is spelt the correct way and not like Elvis as it sounds.
This old city had a massive Castle, its walls seemed to go on forever, we did not go inside the city but were content to inspect and photograph the massive aqueduct that was built to supply water to the Castle, over 30 m high, over 800 archers across the valley, an absolutely tremendous structure that is almost impossible to capture completely with a normal lens on a camera.
However after taking photographs from every angle we decided to move on and found on the outskirts of the town a failed development, where all the Street had been laid, and a few houses built, but nothing occupied. We set up camp there, and it was interesting to note the number of cars that were wandering around the development simply looking, people bringing their dogs by car here for a run, some fatties coming here for a run, the police wandering by, but as the sun sets so does the activity in the area.
Tuesday, 12 June
After spending an hour there, we then set tracks for Lisbon about 146 km away, naturally we got lost trying to find the campground, but we lucked on it, it is close to the city, and close to the motorway, so it is quite noisy, one of the reasons we try to avoid campgrounds and prefer parking in the wild for the night. We have chosen the most distant location in the campground and we of course and still hear the hum of the motorway. Talking of motorways, we came into Lisbon from Évora and a cost of €16 to use the motorway, and of course we saw very little of the countryside.
Wednesday, 13 June
Portugal of course is ruled by a Socialist government, the Portugal Communist Party in coalition with the Socialist party. I'm not quite sure what policies and they have adopted to get into power or what socialistic thinking they have which appeals to the masses but that's the way it is in Portugal. As the casual visitor one sees nothing good or bad to comment on.
Portugal in the past of course was a powerful seagoing nation 500 plus years ago, I recall the delightful phrase,“ Portuguese man of war” when referred to a fighting sailing ship, and the picture one conjures up is a sailing boat bristling with guns which defeats all on comers, the reality of course made have been substantially different.
On the bus going into the city, I heard a voice in front of me speaking in I perceived to be a New Zealand accent, I leaned forward and asked them where they were from, they said New Zealand, it was interesting I picked the accent on the woman, this is the second time I have picked the accent from the woman of a couple. I think back to the southern states of America where the women in the South always had a strong accent, where as the men had a northern accent because they were sent away to school and the girls stayed at home.
Perhaps in New Zealand, with the men (in the retired age who are travelling) normally in the workforce have had to lose their accent were as the women to staying at home do not have that opportunity, an interesting theory!
They had started travelling two years ago and were doing Europe very slowly compared to our trying to see everything!
Today was a public holiday in Lisbon, and 99% of the shops were closed, there was a large crowd in the cathedral, a lot of stalls outside selling flowers and candles and other religious paraphernalia. This leads me to believe that there was a religious holiday for some Saint worthy of a public holiday.
We had lunch in the city, and it cafe type of restaurant, we looked at several and none of them had menus in English, and looking it had the amount of tourists there were walking on the streets this surprises me, I thought I was ordering a meal of steak and chips etc, I got a slice of steak in the middle of a bun, Lula had sardines which was more substantial with the salad and potatoes.
Thursday, 14 June
It was interesting to note, on today's tour, the number of houses that appeared to be abandoned. I've noticed this right throughout Europe on our tour, and these are not little adobe cottages or the like but mansions. Today I saw a three-storey mansion with the windows missing, the large swimming pool empty of water and a tennis court abandoned. This was in a very good area of €6 million houses and one wonders just what causes this right throughout Europe. Occasionally we see such a house in the countryside and one realises that the world has passed it by because of its location but in the middle of the city, or an expensive location like above it is hard to fathom the reason.
The tour was interesting, it saved me going on some bad one-way roads but I'd prefer to see the real countryside instead of the world that money buys.
Fortunately by the start of the tour it had stopped raining and we saw blue skies, and stayed that way until about 8 p.m. tonight when it started raining again. Evidently this area is known for its rainfall and grey skies.
Our first port of call was Torres Vedras there was a Castle and monastery there, but no signposts, no parking areas, so we just drove on to Óbidos a walled city with delightful houses inside, lots of parking, an aqueduct in the parking area, and lots of delightful photo opportunities, many things to buy however most were overpriced as you would expect, but we spent a delightful hour there.
Our next stop was Alcobaça and it is claimed to fame was the largest church in Portugal, of course big does not mean it is worthwhile looking at, and two or three photographs later we were on our way to Leiria a city with a Castle and monastery, it's beginning to sound familiar isn't it, no parking and very few signs so we did not stop and set off to the Atlantic coast for the night, to an area called São Pedro de Muel and one of Hanks parking spots, thank you Hank, were right on the coast overlooking the Atlantic, with a beautiful beach stretching as far as the eye can see on one side and a lighthouse on the other.
Driving on the local roads like we have been today takes us through these little villages with often just a one-way Road through the village. Now when you are considering this consider that the houses are on either side of the one-way Road, and their front doors open up to this one-way Road, I guess they all open inwards otherwise would see a lot of houses without front doors. I guess if you lived in this house for your life by the time you have reached 6 years of age you would consider this was quite normal, and possibly everybody in the world lived like this.
Portugal must be an incredible source for decorator tiles (tiles we use in the bathroom or kitchen) because the range of tiles we see in use here are absolutely incredible. There are beautiful scenes on the sides of houses that had been created with hand-painted tiles. On the slightly older houses in is quite normal for the whole exterior to be tiled and often these look quite spectacular.
We are still seeing, today, houses that had been abandoned and they are falling in on themselves, but were also seeing many new developments packed with houses and apartments all painted white with orange tiled roofs. Now this is away from the Algarve coast and consequently of people seeking a warmer climate, away from a major city so it makes one wonder who the new occupants will be.
The Vodafone connect card, for internet & e-mail, is working fine for us here and Portugal, and worked fine in France and Spain, time will tell as to the cost for the continual ability to be in communication with the world.
Saturday, 16 June
There were large buses parked everywhere, large parking area is filled with cars, people everywhere and a lot of them were busy eating food that they had brought with them. And then there were the shops! Hundreds of them all selling religious paraphernalia, I think there were enough religious statues on sale here to place one in every home in Portugal. Now this was just a normal Saturday and not one of the two special days that make this a destination for thousands of people, I'm glad we are not there on one of those days.
We are there actually to buy a small plate for a friend who had broken their one they had purchased in this city, Luda had a picture of it in her mind and after 90 minutes of not finding a blue pretty plate with the word Fatima on it, I told her that in this city everything had a religious theme, at this point she bought two pretty little plates which hopefully will be a replacement for our friends.
Our next destination was Tomar with an extremely large Castle and a temple on the inside, we arrived there in the rain, we found the Castle eventually in the rain, and as I had no desire to see ; A. B.C Lula took her camera for walk around the Castle, photographing all the places that said no photography, and just after she left about six tour buses arrived so at least she had a head start on those groups.
As it was raining I felt was time to find a place for the night and we found a council yard with a place for parking and that suited us fine in spite of the storm we experienced all-night.
Sunday, 17 June
When we go through villages we see what could be described as a watering trough with a pipe sometimes with the tap on the end, sometimes water just running out, this is usually well water and usually very good because we often find the locals filling up containers with this water, so we pull in alongside, use one of the very many tap fittings that I carry with me and we replenish our freshwater tank.
We reached Ovar, and as usual there was no parking to be found but I did find a side street that had an area about four lanes wide, so I parked their taking up almost 2 lanes and we went thro walk through the city.
Another night beside the beach seemed attractive, so we drove out to Furadouro and there we found a large car park with about 20 motorhomes parked in it so we joined them for the night, we are the only foreign motorhome here as a matter of interest.
Monday, 18 June
The alternative route took us in a large circle of eight kilometres with part of the route along the motorway it was almost gridlock and finally to a parking area beside the river within walking distance of everything we watched to see, thank you Hank!
We had considered going to a motor camp that was close to the city, but then we would have had to spend a day in the city, after finding our way in there and our way back in this parking spot was fantastic and only cost us €3.8 the time we had seen all we wanted to see and were ready to go.
Our next destination was Bom Jesus de Braga a religious site close to Braga built in the 18th century on a design by the Archbishop of Braga, it evidently is a pilgrimage site as well as being a great tourist attraction, and has a large church at the top of a hill, a walk way or fernacular railway to take you to the top passing through the 14th stations of the Cross, showing the scenes leading up to the Christ's crucifixion.
We programmed the Tom Tom for this destination and took us faithfully to top of the hill and the church, where I found parking were I waited whilst Lula took her 10 D. to record her images.
I might mention at this stage Lula is using a 28 to 135 Canon image stabiliser lens which gives her a field of view equivalent to a 35 mm 38 to 216. My favourite lens it is the 35mm 70 to 300 image stabiliser which of course would be duplicating a lot of Ludas photos so I am using a 17 to 35 wide angle zoon which is ideal for the close quarters that you find in Europe. Perspective is shot to hell, but so what!
After Luda had returned from her photographic safari photographing this religious site, we took the motorhome to the bottom of the hill where one of Hanks parking spots had been shown to us on the way in and they we spent the night, a very wet night with quite a storm, and here was a I complaining of the hot weather in Spain!
Tuesday, 19 June
That being down we started towards our next destination which was Mirandela 126 km away, most of the fortunately on a motorway and its claim to Lula's attention was a Roman Bridge rebuild on the 16th century and now only for pedestrians and a tourists tractor pulled train. The city seems to have no other worthily merit except we were able to find, by ourselves, a car park near the river which looks like it will be peaceful.
After all my talking of driving conditions in Italy, we will warned down there, wait till you get to Portugal, that when you will really see bad driving.
Well the driving in Portugal is far superior Italy, however on our whole trip so far the drivers we have encountered have all relied on the other driver being awake and alert. For example today a small car crossed in front of us coming from the left-hand side: to get to our side of the road going in our direction, in doing so I had to apply the brakes to stop from hitting him, and the person coming the opposite way had to do the same and it was very close!
Double parking throughout Europe is incredible, and Portugal the favourite place to park with your hazard lights flashing is on the pedestrian crossing, but that's not so bad, today on a one-way Road the guy had parked blocking the whole Road whilst he sorted out the items he was dumping for recycling, and the fact that I had stopped behind him did not cause him to a hurry at all.
Yesterday a driver in front of us indicated he wanted to turn left, the only place he could go was a car park of six cars that was full, but I waited behind him until all the oncoming traffic had a gap, and he turned in to Park behind the six cars with half of his car blocking the oncoming traffic!
It is normal to be passing through a town or village, and see a van parked on your side of the road, blocking it, and the driver standing by the back door busy talking to a friend, and the fact that you are waiting behind his car, for a gap on the oncoming traffic, so you can pass his car means nothing at all.
The Portuguese race as a whole we have noted to be small in statue, so consequently my search for a comfortable pair of shoes has gone on a hold in this country, I wear 46 and I think their sizes stop at about 43.
Wednesday, 20 June
This was a very, very good lesson!
Well with that shock partly absorbed, it was time to get on the road again towards Chaves, a city that was reputed to have an interesting old town, we got there to find it was a sprawling modern metropolis with no sign of the old town, the walls of the old castle were still there without the old buildings that should have been on the inside, so it was on the Road for 8 km and we were in Spain.
While we arrived in Spain, it was raining, the sky ahead of us was a good imitation of England, I wonder if this weather was especially put on to welcome the English to Spain so they would feel at home!
After about an hour and a half the rain stopped, the sun broke through the clouds and we had fine weather, of course by this time we had moved out of the mountains which may have been a substantial reason. We had over 500 km this to go to our next location which was Bilbao so about four o'clock we pulled off the motorway, drove about 18 km inland, inspected three villages doing substantial photographs in one of all the old adobe houses, substantial adobe houses, two storeys high some of them and still occupied. In the same village there were many houses built into the hillside, dozens of chimneys up on the top of the mound, and as far as we could tell they all occupied.
One of the churches was build into the hillside, it was the more modern of the two, the older one about 50 % of it was adobe, the massive buttresses to hold a very high wall was also adobe.
We left that village and moved on to one called Roperuelos del Páramo as far as we can tell, we are parked in one of the side streets, and most of the locals had been passed having a look at us.
Thursday, 21 June
Well we went, we photographed, and then we made the mistake of going inside! You've read about my experience at the Dalai Museum, well this experience was no better, photography was not allowed in the Museum and halfway through my aimless wandering they insist that I placed my camera inside a plastic bag so I could not use it, I explained to the girl in English, which perhaps it was fortunate she did not understand, that these objects were not even worth while wasting a digital image on, but the camera was still sealed to prevent my temptation.
After all that excitement we felt like eating food and we wanted around for at least an hour, we found plenty of Bar's and cafes they were serving finger food and alcohol and everyone that had the potential of being a restaurant was closed until 7:30 p.m., even the good old Chinese, who you can normally rely on to give you food at any hour was closed until that time, another restaurant did not start until 9 p.m.. In the end we ended up in Burger King who had no qualms about supplying us with food at that moment, and having not eaten all day and this was about 6:30 p.m. the Burger King never tasted so good.
Back at the camp ground I was giving the Englishman's some guidance on how to find the Museum and it turns out everyone he has spoken to that has visited the museum has had similar thoughts to mine and he is expecting to have the same reaction, interesting, if you put up an interesting enough building, it does not matter what you put inside.
Friday, 22 June
We decided to go to France along the coast road and reading a book on the Basque Country it gives an interesting tale of what you can read as being cute little fishing villages along the coast, but of course it is the coast, and land with sea views is extremely valuable, so as we were driving around the bay's we round a corner and here we would find a city full of about 18 story apartment blocks packed all close together in that little bit of land that there is available in the Bay.
Of course we drove through all of these “villages” and one could really see that space was at a premium because people were parking everywhere, double parking was the norm and driving through the village was like competing in an obstacle race. One village we went through there was the normal double parking and low and behold coming towards us was a man or woman walking wheeling a large baby's pram with a cute little white umbrella off to the side, when they saw us they had the good sense to move off the Road.
Today we did see some of the abandoned houses being rebuilt, often the roofs have fallen and that is what we have noticed was the starting point to make the building liveable.
One of the cities we went through was called EA, and one can almost hear a English music hall comedy built around this place name, in the theme of “ who is on first base”!
It was 186 Kilometre Drive which took us all-day, it was extremely scenic, but often a problem finding somewhere to stop to record the image digitally, and we ended up just over the border in France, and a special little camping ground the French have for free parking for motorhomes, we took the last usable space, but since then three other motorhomes have arrived and they have fitted themselves in somewhere.
Saturday, 24 June
We will be passing through towns and villages like Bayonne, Campagne, Mont-de-Marsan until we reached a village called Casteljaloux. There we found a common sight in throughout France of a motorhome with a indication of somewhere to dump waste water all on a blue background, this often indicated a place to dump water, get fresh water, and a parking place to stay the night. We call them “Hanks parking spots” because he gave us the list that we loaded into the Tom Tom which helps us find them. When we arrived there were three motorhomes there occupying three of the four spaces, we quickly claimed the fourth space, however three or four others arrived before dark and parked on the grass. There were all French and again we were the only foreigners there, it is possible to use these parking spots all across France, and we have also seen them in Italy, is certainly beats camping grounds and often the noise found within them for which you pay 25 to €30 and sometimes more.
For our drive north we have selected to avoid the tollways, and the actual distance we will drive a slightly less, but of course it takes more time. The roads in all very good, off the tollways, and often you are on a motorway with a top speed of 120 K. per hour.
Sunday, 24 June
This morning we left four motorhomes parked on the site, all with their blind still drawn at 10:30 a.m., however we did see two of the women walking into the village to buy their bread for the men's breakfast, it's interesting when we are camped with Germans, we often find all gone by 8 a.m., but the French I guess will still be there by noon.
In Spain and Portugal we saw a tremendous number of houses that were abandoned those of the countryside and the villagers we drove through. Perhaps and the 600 km we have driven through France since Portugal would be lucky if we have seen two houses abandoned, every house is well cared for and are certainly occupied. One thing we have not seen in France is a tremendous number of new houses being built that we saw in Spain and Portugal, perhaps they just prefer to keep their existing houses in good condition and remain living in them.
Today we drove through Périgueux, Limoges and being unable to find Hanks parking spot in this location we drove a little into the countryside and parked on the side of a disused Road.
Monday, 25 June
Tuesday, 26 June
Eventually we got close enough to Paris for us to be put onto a motorway and we moved through about three motorways before we reached the suburb of Torcy and then it was only a matter of about 2 km to the campground.
We are at this particular campground because they have wireless Internet, not exactly cheap at €10 an hour but substantially cheaper than what my Vodafone connect card worked out at, so we will download all of our e-mails, update my travel page, send out this newsletter, do all of our washing and then tomorrow moved on to a campsite closer to Paris.
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