Archives for the month of: September, 2014

We drove about three hours from Monsanto in Portugal over to
near Salamanca to spend the night before driving into Salamanca
to pick up our friends Helen and Francoise on the 14th September and who had arrived a couple of days beforehand from Paris and San Sebastian.
We passed more cork tree plantations, many with their barks stripped showing their very red trunks. We also saw a truck laden with cork bark headed obviously to a factory where they make everything from bags to shoes and knick knacks for tourists.
The small villages that we saw from the road were whitewashed and
with red terracotta tiled roofs.
We headed for Avila (St Teresa of Avila, my namesake) which was a beautiful walled town. We had a good look around the old quarter before moving on to the campsite “Arco Iris” about forty minutes from Madrid. We spent two nights there and caught the bus in the morning to Madrid to explore the city. We walked for a number of hours taking in the palace, food markets and beautiful gardens. Being a Monday the Prado museum was closed but I had been to it many years before. I did remember the very wide avenues lined with trees in the city.

On the 16th September we left Madrid and went first to Toledo which only took about an hour.
It was about thirty years since I had been there but I did remember the town gates and bridge over to the old part of town. We went into the cathedral where an exhibition of El Greco’s paintings were on display. The techniques he adopted for his paintings had left many with still vibrant colours.
We opted for a small train that made it’s way in and around the town as the streets were cobbled, steep and it was quite a distance to see all of the main sights.
From Toledo we travelled about 4hours down towards Cordoba passing scores of kilometres of olive groves alond the way. It had reacheed 30degrees as we arrived at “Albufeira” campsite outside the city. On the way to Cordoba we passed the “Man of La Mancha” country with it’s castle and many windmills on the hills around it.
The town below was quite large but was like a ghost town. There was no one on the streets and only a few men in a couple of bars in town.

The next day when drove into the city but could find no parking for the van close to town so we parked a little way out, had a good coffee at a local bar and caught a local bus into the centre of the old town. It started to rain and that kept up for the whole day which made it not so pleasant to walk around but we persevered and were determined to see the “Mesquite cathedral/mosque” which looked spectacular. Once we had done that we caught a taxi back to the van and found our way to “Villsom” camping for three nights.
We had a lay day the following day the 18th September which was also Maurice’s birthday and after a recommendation from our hosts at the camping/hotel site we caught a taxi to “Bar Jaula” in the nearest town of “Dos Hermanas”. The taxi driver warned us in Spanish (most of what I got) that the bar would not open for dinner before 8 o’clock so we had a couple of drinks at a bar next door.
We had been told that the Spanish eat dinner late (10pm onwards) and the near empty outdoor tables and chairs were starting to fill by the time we had finished our excellent tapas dinner. It was at least a lovely warm night and we could sit outside. We had also been warned thank goodness that their tapas portions were large (they served four of us amply) so we adjusted our ordering.
The food was delicious – very fresh and we tried a good range of food from prawn salad, potato salad, two beef dishes and fried cod.

The next day promised to be more or less fine so we took the bus into Seville to see the sights of the city. We were disappointed as it started to rain as we got off the bus and on to the “hop on hop off bus” and continued to rain much harder for the rest of the day. The “Plaza D’Espagna” was the hightlight of the day with it’s beautiful tiled railings and murals in an enormous square which houses municipal buildings for the city.

We enjoyed the meal the previous night so much we went back for more but the bar was much busier being a Friday night. We enjoyed our meal and the gin and tonics and walked the 1/2 hour back to the campsite.

We headed south over the mountains the next day to Ronda a lovely town bustling with people and then on to Marbella to see what the seaside resort was like on the Costa del Sol. It was very neat and tidy with hundreds of appartment blocks and a long promenade at the beach front.
A bit too commercialised for our liking but was good to sea. We continued on past Malaga to our campsite for the night before going back into Malaga the next day. Unfortunately the bungalow accommodation for the girls was full so they had to go to a hostel
down the road. We were surprised that all the cabins in the campsite were full as we hadn’t encountered that this year even in
the high season and they had had a storm the day before we got there and it rained again the day after we got there.
We picked up some supplies from an enormous “Carrefour” Supermarket in every sense of the word. An enormous place selling everything imaginable. The selection of fresh food was amazing and there was a special section for entire “Jamon”.

We spent the morning in Malaga on Sunday 21st September and while Maurice rested his ankle (arthritis) in the van we found markets by the harbour and bought a few small things. Francoise and I made it to the magnificent cathedral and former mosque which was an interesting building in front of a nice little square. There were crowds of people walking around as it was a Sunday and at least it didn’t rain. From there we drove over the Sierra Nevada mountains to near Granada to a very atmospheric campsite called “Reina Isobel where the two girls stayed in a very Spanish looking bungalow.
Although not raining it was very cloudy, warm and humid.

We drove the next day from Spain and across into Portugal. It still seemed strange there were no real borders any longer.
Our first stop was the city of Braga. We noticed that many of the appartment and municipal buildings had tiled fronts (which apparently reflects the sun and keeps the heat out)in various colours and patterns.
We parked in an old part of town which was appeared very derelict with some houses abandoned and boarded up.

We luckily walked another direction into the town which was much more affluent and had a vibrant feel to it with large pedestrian walkways amongst historic municipal buildings and churches and many shops some of which had enclosed balconies or intricate ironwork similar to those in Egypt.
The further south we travelled the blue gums were more interspersed with fir trees and near to the coast were many kilometres of corn fields and many small patches of market gardens. Some of our travel was on toll roads but they again were very reasonably priced but there seemed to be many more of them so we travelled for half and hour having paid 1.53euros and then paid another 2.55euros for another hour’s travel. In some places there was no alternative to the highway but we got a good view of the coast and countryside in many places.
We travelled via Guimaraes down to the coast again to “Vila Cha” a pleasant campsite with very nice staff. I think that
the lady who checked us in wanted to practise her English as there was a queue of people behind waiting to check in but she
was not going to be rushed and gave us every possible information about the campsite,shop,location and then offered us a free
port at the bar! It wasn’t that we were Australians as we handed her our EU passports. Local fruit, vegetables and bread
were delivered to the shop which had one of everything for sale from snorkel and mask to soap containers.

Our short good run with the weather ended when it started to rain at night and that continued for much of the next day. It was
also alternately cool and then warm and humid.
The only really good hot weather we had had so far was the month of July in Russia, Sweden, Norway and a few days in Northern
Germany. Finland had recorded it’s coldest summer for 50years and Ireland in August was the coldest for six years.

It was a taxi ride to the modern metro station and excellent train service into Porto the next day. We had raincoats on for part
of the day but it cleared in the afternoon. Porto must have been a very grand city in it’s day – many hundreds of years ago when Portugal was a great power but a lot of it now was crumbling and in decay and so many of the still standing buildings were in need of a clean. Just above the main station however was an amazing mural taking shape an when we returned to the station the artist was working on it (all done with a spray can).
We found the prices in spain very reasonable but in Portugal prices were even cheaper. We paid 3 euros for a large glass of
fresh orange juice and a pot of tea and we only paid 16euros for a lunch of two large bowls of vegetable soup, a piece of cod
with chickpeas, a large mixed salad, bread and two bottles of sparkling water.

We found a fascinating three storey shop selling an enormous amount of quirky items in the most beautiful old wooden building
in the middle of the city. I wasn’t feeling the best with my cold so we caught the train back to Mindelo station and got a taxi back to the campsite for an early night.

It started raining as soon as we awoke and then became more persistent as we made our way south towards Lisbon. We decided to
call into Fatima on the way. We of course knew of Fatima from our Catholic upbringings but I remember more vividly the film
made decades ago of the story of Fatima. It was a Sunday and there was a mass taking place in the enormous square in front
of the church. There were thousands of people there either attending mass, walking around, sitting chatting or throwing any
number of candles into two large fires. We thought this very strange so went to the information office to ask why that was
happening. Apparently people brought too many candles which they lit and they had had a couple of fires and they also didn’t know how to dispose of so many so they have a fire burning around the clock and people bring handfuls of large candles and throw them into the fire instead of lighting them – very strange. The whole scene and gargantuan buildings around the square were a bit too commercial for us so instead we went off down the road and to the little village of Aljustrel where the three sheppherds lived. We walked through the olive groves where the apparitions took place and where there were very few people and small monuments to record the events. That to us seemed much more fitting than all the pomp and ceremony around the church.

The landscape changed again with many olive groves and some vineyards and many oleander bushes along the side of the road.
The land was much drier. There were countless factories and logistic buildings along the way and a giant outlet complex where we stopped and bought a couple of items.

We drove to Lisbon on the secondary roads through little villages and at one of them we stopped for coffee. It was like one of those
western movies where strangers come into the saloon and everyone stops talking. The same applied there where a handful of
locals were sitting at various tables. I asked as I had been told already in Spain and Portugal for a “cafe americano”
– a long black to us Aussies and the guy behind the bar looked at me as though I had two heads. So I opted for black coffee
– long (part Portuguese part handsignals). The prices were getting even cheaper with two coffees costing 1.30euros.

Maurice read before we got to Portugal that one must buy a ticket at a service station for the toll roads,however,when we asked
at the first manned toll station if that was necessary the girl told us that it wasn’t and we could pay as we went along. We did
this until we went under an electronic toll. We stopped for a coffee and to fuel up (diesel here cost 1.37ltr) and there was
a busload of policemen standing around so Maurice asked them for guidance on the tolls. They told us that we could buy a ticket
or we could just before we left the country ask the last manned toll how much we owe. The very helpful policeman said to Maurice
“don’t forget or we will have to arrest you”. They were so helpful and pleasant as was everyone we came across in Portugal. The funny thing was that when we were about to leave the country the girl on the toll booth told us we could not pay it there and only in the Algarve!! She said “don’t worry you are not Portuguese so don’t do anything, you won’t get a fine” so off we went.

The other thing we noticed was the size of the Portuguese people. So many of them were very small in stature and I towered over a lot of the men.

As we came towardsthe coast the hills flattened out into very wide plains down to the coast and then up again over hills
around Lisbon where thirty percent of the population of Portugal live. All we could see for kilometres were thousands of
appartment buildings covering the hills and valleys as we made our way to the national park and through the vast forests of gum trees (lemon scented as well as some blue gums). We thought we were back in Australia with the scent of the eucalypts. Our campsite “Obitur parque de campismo do Guincho” near Cascais was close to the coast.

To get to Lisbon we caught a taxi to Cascais which took ten minutes and then by train to Lisbon which took about half an hour. I was still coughing and felt rather lethargic so we decided on the hop on hop off bus which took us to a lot of the main sights of the city which is vast in size and has many hills,steep narrow streets,beautiful large squares with impressive monuments and a great variety of architecture. The seemingly modern buildings by the harbour of steel and concrete were built for Lisbon’s Expo in 1998 but still looked in pristine condition and many were being used for various activities.
Lisbon appeared much more affluent generally than Porto and the buildings were much cleaner overall. We stayed on the bus
for about an hour and a half and got off at a viewing point which looked down towards the ocean.
We happened upon a very small restaurant with many locals having lunch. The one waitress who managed the whole place was very
friendly,helpful and very efficient. The salads and fleshy tomatoes were delicious.
We went on a short tram ride down a hill and walked around a part of town before stopping for a drink at cafe “Nicola” which had
been in operation since 1929.
We were going to get back on the hop off hop on bus but decided to opt for a short tuk tuk tour and ride back to the train station which proved a great experience as “Jono” chatted to us as he drove us around the very narrow streets of what he called typical Lisbon and showed us another location for beautiful views of the city. They reminded us of the narrow roads of
Roccamandolfi and other small Italian towns complete with little women in black dresses. We donated our bus tickets to a
pair of young backpackers who couldn’t believe that we were giving them something for free and caught the train back to Cascais and taxied back to the campsite.

We drove the twenty minutes back to Sintra to see the various castles with their very different architecture.
We were lucky and got a great parking spot opposite the city castle and then caught the bus up to two of the very distinctive
castles which were high above the town of Sintra. The castle walls at Mouros were built around huge boulders and the views
down to the coast were beautiful, especially with a lovely blue sky above us. We spent a few hours walking around and then went
back down to the town and visited the city castle before heading on foot up to “Quinta da Regaleira” castle and it’s gardens only ten minutes walk away. We then left Sintra and made our way down to the coast about 20minutes away, first stopping at Azenhas do Mar, a pretty village atop a cliff and then to Cabo do Mar, the western most point of mainland Europe with lovely views down the coast.

We found “Fetais” campsite on the edge of the National “parque do Arrabida”. The following day it rained very heavily as we drove
away from the campsite where there had recently been a fire. No chance of that the day we left!
We stopped at Sesimbra to see a simple church with beautiful blue and white tiling inside and then drove through the national
park over the mountains to Portinho do Arrabida but there was a lot of fog and rain and we couldn’t see a lot.
We stopped at our favourite “Aldi” supermarket for some supplies. Prices were very reasonable with 6litres of water costing 60 euro cents.

There was no point in driving on the secondary roads as the weather got worse with torrential rain, thunder and lightning so
we joined the motorway down towards the Algarve. We were lucky as the weather got better as we got to the Orbitur campsite on
the coast at Quinteira, a beach resort near Faro. On one side of the road were modern high rise appartments and on the other
side you could watch the goatherder coming back to his farm with his goats. We knew why the symbol of Portugal was the rooster
as every morning from about 5am they would try and outdo each other, cockadoodledoing incessantly. I think I preferred the
various birdcalls we had experienced in other campsites.

We had a Frenchman come knocking at our door to ask if we were Australians as he had seen the kangaroo 5km sign on the front
window. He has been the only person that we found who had visited the whole coast of Western Australia. He invited us for an
aperatif so we went next door with our chairs and had some lovely Veuve Cliquot champagne (his companion worked for them in
Reims). I brought out my rusty French as none of them spoke English and we chatted for about an hour and exchanged emails.

The next day the 11th September we caught the bus to Faro and we revelled in the hot weather walking around the quaint town
which lies on vast waterways. We were surprised to see many Jacaranda trees (some still with their purple flowers) around the
many squares in the town. A lot of the old town was boarded up and there were a few empty shops about which was always sad to see.

I walkekd into Quarteira and asked a local where we should eat that night and then I walked back to the campsite along the seafront which was filled with thousands of people under bright umbrellas enjoying the hot eeather and the beach.

That evening we caught a taxi to the recommended seafood restaurant by the sea called “Caravelha” and ate a “Cataplana” which is a stew cooked traditionally in a copper pot with lid (it looked like a flying saucer). Ours came in a stainless steel pot and
was a wonderful mixture of monkfish, clams and large prawns cooked in a fresh tomato and onion broth. It was delicious.
Maurice was very industious the following morning washing the van while I was at the hairdressers.
We decided to leave Quinteira and make for Caceres just over the border in Spain (as there was a good campsite nearby)about
four hours north on our way to Monsanto in Portugal. A shame that the chemical company had to choose that name.
We had been recommended by the owner of the castle “Narrow waters” in Northern Ireland to go to Monsanto which was well worth seeing. A lot of the village was built around giant boulders. The views were spectacular after Maurice and I had climbed to the top of the mountain not realising that the track petered out and it was quite steep.
We also visited another small village close by and came upon a lovely little local woodfired bakery run by a lady and her daughter who spoke good English. We bought some bread and then headed towards Spain and Salamanca where we had arranged to meet our friends Helen and Francoise who were to travel with us for three weeks in Spain.

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It was a sunny day when we left Wexford for Rosslare and the ferry to Roscoff,France on the 29th August. The weather deteriorated rapidly by the
time we got to the ferry in Rosslare with strong winds and we had a 2-3metre swell when we got into the Irish sea and then into the Atlantic.
We had a very comfortable cabin on the Irish Ferries “Oscar Wilde” but couldn’t really go out on deck as we were rolling
a bit and pitching a lot and had to take hold of the grab rails to venture anywhere. It was a strange feeling diving into a wave and not knowing how far down the ship would go before it came up again! The couple of gin and tonics I had made for a good night’s sleep
but Maurice kept hearing the alarms and horns of the cars in the decks far below which were disrupted by the movement.
We arrived in Roscoff to 21degrees and for the first few kilometres we drove with large fields of artichokes, some just planted
and some with bright purple bulbs on both sides of the road. We stopped for lunch at one of the nicely appointed “Aires” with picnic tables and large grassed area.
We decided to take the tolled highway which cost us about 13euros for two hours of travel.
It took us about 5hours from Roscoff to La Rochelle where we spent the night in a well maintained campsite near the sea called “Au Petit Pont de L’Houmeau”. We did want to stop and explore La Rochelle with it’s beautiful limestone buildings but again could not find a parking spot. The town was teeming with people and traffic so we decided to go on to the campsite and get up early the next morning and try again.
We were in the centre of town before 9am on the Sunday and the town was practically deserted which made for easy parking and a pleasant walk around for about an hour and a good coffee in a lovely little cafe. By the time we left after 10am the town was waking up. The three and a half hours to Biarritz via Bordeaux went quickly on the highway which was a toll road with little traffic. To get down to Biarritz from La Rochelle was a total of 37.30 euros for about four hours driving.
We passed many field of spent sunflowers and autumn was upon some areas with the trees changing colour from green to yellows and browns.

The further south we went the warmer it became. We found a parking spot very quicly in Biarritz where most people seemed to
be at the beach either surfing, sunbaking or just paddling. It was a very much a seaside resort with many hotels, eateries
and a casino. We had a coffee and a walk around the town for a couple of hours before proceeding down the local winding
coast road and into Spain to Orio seaside campsite about 17kms past San Sebastian. I almost felt like taking a dip in the
ocean as I still had my heavy jeans and fleecy shirt on from the morning and was feeling rather warm – such a pleasant feeling!

We woke to a bit of mist which cleared into a beautiful blue sky and 26 degrees. We left Van Mauriceson at the campsite
we caught the train into the city of Donostia – San Sebastian. What a lovely seaside city and with so much atmosphere. A lot
of historic and older stylish apparment buildings overlooking a beautiful bay. After our obligatory morning coffee we
strolled around the old part of town with it’s many bars laden with Pintxos (snacks or tapas of every kind laid out on the
counters of the various bars and cafes) which looked most appealing.
We had to try some so went to a couple of the bars who also served cider with aplomb pouring it from on high and getting it into a glass. The prices seemed very reasonable with 4 pintxos and 2coffees costing 10 euros.
There were thousands of people at the seaside (but we only saw a couple of real swimmers) and their numbers swelled as the
day wore on. We decided to take to the water ourselves taking our shoes off and walking around the bay to where a few unusual sculptures were set into large boulders.
The funicular up to the top of the hill to overlook the bay and hinterland used old wooden carriages and rattled a bit on
the way up to the top. The views were spectacular and we were surprised that there were very few people there.

We had been walking (with a couple of stops for coffee and pinxtos) for about ten hours so took the bus back to town where
we walked around to the harbour and took the 40minute boat ride to see the city from the water. It was very reasonable at
9 euros and without any commentary it was a very pleasant short trip.
Walking around the bay we were very surprised to see at least eight sets of twins from babies in prams to toddlers.
We thought that there might have been a twins convention as it did seem strange to see so many in the one place.
We were reluctant to leave the city so stayed at the harbour and ate some paella and fresh fish at one of the little restaurants at the fishing harbour.

An early start saw us drive over the mountains where vast roadworks, bridge construction and new tunnels were taking shape.
Some of the trip was on the highway and the only toll we paid was 1.53euros – a pittance compared with the tolls in France and the roads were just as good if not better.

There seemed to be no evidence since we arrived in Spain (at least on this coast) of the poor state of the economy. We saw
no empty shops and the locals were all well dressed and frequenting the bars and restaurants in the area.
On our way around the coast we passed many enormous factories as we travelled through the basque Asturias region.
We drove down to Bilbao to see the Guggenheim museum which is an amazing structure and in a wonderful setting by the river. Bilbao is a vast city and stretches up the hillsides on both sides of the river.

We chose a campsite from our ACSI camping guide and it was as spectacular as it looked in the picture. “Camping La Paz” near
Llanes halfway between Santander and Gijon was high up on a cliff overlooking the ocean and there was also a lovely sandy beach. At 17 euros a night it was a steal!

We set off the next morning towards Santiago de Compostela stopping along the way for our morning coffee in Mondodeno, a lovely little village with a vast cathedaral. The coffee in Spain so far has been much smoother and not as bitter as in a lot of other European countries.
We got supplies from a great little “supermercado” there which was a sort of large pastie with tuna, onions and capsicum – delicious.

The most prolific trees along the north and west coast were Australian blue gums which made us feel right at home.

We left the province of Asturias and made our way into Galicia and down to Santiago de Compostela to where a lot of pilgrims had arrived on foot. We cheated and drove there instead.
The cathedral was undergoing renovations and the town didn’t seem to have a lot more to offer for tourists apart from eating
places and hotels.

We left there and found our campsite near Muros on the Atlantic coast where the family running the place where very friendly.
We ate there that night and had such a huge mixed fresh fish platter that we had to take lots back to the van to finish off the next day.
I felt as though I was getting a cold (God knows where it came from when all we had was fresh sea air??) so we had a a lay day and booked some flights, paid some bills and generally caught up on things. I made a big pot of curried vegetables with chillies so that helped the cold a bit.

We left the next morning to make our way down to Portugal,a
country that we wanted to explore.

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