Oooooh can you feel that fizzing? All the little electrons flooding down Vince’s hook-up cable and barging in like four-wheel drives on the school run; parking anywhere and everywhere, filling up phone batteries, tablets and the laptop, spilling over into Vince’s leisure battery and all over the floor. About time too. In winter it’s rare for us to manage four nights without an electricity hook-up but we pushed our luck and went for it. That’s why we’ve been a bit quiet – all our batteries slowly expired so no blog posts until now. Did you miss us? Don’t answer that…
Since we last saw you in Lisbon, we had a bit of a down day. I know it’s easy just to tell you about the good bits but now and again things don’t go so well, so it’s only fair to mention that as well, in case anybody else is thinking of setting off on a big adventure expecting nothing but beaches and sunsets. The day after Lisbon we tried to get to Sintra, an area with lots to see including a medieval village and castle. We hit some traffic on the way in so after queuing for ages we finally approached the turn-off for the aire where we planned to stay for the night – to find the road was closed. We were waved on by the local police with no idea of which way to head. We went round and round trying to find another way in without success and finally gave up and continued north. Very frustrating.
The back-up aire we found in our guide looked decidedly dodgy when we got there. A muddy car park by an industrial unit in a run-down village with traffic thundering by on the main road. There were no other motorhomes there either, which is not a good sign. We turned around and carried on. The day was finally saved by finding a spot at Sizandro Beach – actually on the beach. A long, long drive ended with us facing the waves and the setting sun, feeling grateful that we could sleep in the van without worrying. Even the local bikers tearing up and down the dunes on their off-road bikes couldn’t prevent us from enjoying the view. Gill pointed out that we drove through Berrocas on the way there putting the lie to the advert – it was me, but not on a good day!
Thankfully our next destination turned out to be a cracker. We thought we were having déjà vu – joining the queue outside town, slowly progressing towards our chosen aire for the night – but this time there were no road closures. The reason for the queues was the Christmas festival at Óbidos, and we arrived bang on time at Saturday lunchtime! We’d read that Óbidos was “an example of how the Portuguese can take a beautiful medieval town and spoil it completely with rampant commercialism.” Well I’m afraid that particular Guardian-reading reviewer hadn’t taken into account that without the tourist dollar, the town would probably have been demolished by now in favour of factories and yet more McDonalds, Subway and Burger King franchises – many of which we’ve seen over here.
Yes, the local traders were capitalising on the tourist bonanza, and yes there was plenty of tat for sale, but the town is actually very well preserved and stunningly beautiful. There are ramparts all the way around the old town, a castle, churches, winding streets with tiny shops selling local produce and (whoopee!) lots of the local speciality sour-cherry gin we first tried at the potato festival. We made two visits – one during the day where we walked the scary ramparts on a narrow path round the walls with no handrails, just an enormous drop on the left – and a second visit in the evening to see the festive lights and enjoy some roast chestnuts and even more sour-cherry gin. What a lovely place, don’t let those who think they know better put you off.
Our journey north continued on Sunday to Figueira da Foz where were lucky to land on a recommended parking spot on just the right day. Normally the car park charges €8 per day but Sundays are free so we took full advantage, wandering the seaside town and enjoying the most delicious sea bream (me) and sea bass (Gill) for lunch. I couldn’t resist another sunset session with the camera, particularly as the breakwater was packed with anglers – some of whom were actually catching fish! I know! That’s a first this trip. The downside to fee-free parking was that the charges kick in again from 8am so watches were synchronised, alarms were set, and Vince set sail yesterday morning at 07:50 precisely, leaving the snoozers to pay their way. Did I mention Gill was Scottish? Thought so.
We enjoyed a flying visit to Aveiro, sometimes described as Portugal’s Venice. Well…it does have a canal. And it does have annoying gondoliers who accost you as you walk by, trying to entice you into taking an expensive canal trip. But comparisons with Venice are pushing it a bit! The parking area we chose left a bit to be desired given that it was under a busy flyover. To be fair though, it was perfectly safe and only a short walk from the town where we visited the Cathedral and the Misericordia, and spent an enjoyable half-hour feeding the fish in the canal with a cold pastie from two nights ago. We didn’t want to risk eating it – food poisoning isn’t a good idea in a van with a portaloo… Sorry was that too much information? Like I said earlier – it isn’t all beaches and sunsets!
So where are we now? Well in a nice, neat, tied-up with a pretty bow kind of way we are in the place where we finished our journey south last year and had to turn round for the journey back to the UK. This time we approached from the south so we have now journeyed all the way round Portugal’s coast and internal border with Spain. And when I say we’re in the same place – I mean literally the same place as we were allocated exactly the same pitch at the campsite in Vila Chã as last time. In a funny kind of way it was like coming home as we stayed here for five nights last year – the longest we stayed anywhere – simply because it’s a lovely area. Not too touristy but with enough to keep you occupied – a dramatic coastline with big Atlantic waves, a boardwalk along the coast for cyclists and walkers, and easy access via the metro to the major city of Porto, where we’re heading tomorrow. Can’t wait! See you after 🙂