May has been quite an adventure, exploring Portugal, heading into Spain, accidently returning to Portugal, back to Spain before finally reaching France. We’ve had sat-nav escapades, good weather, bad weather; really bad weather met some lovely people & had lots of fun!
Visiting Lisbon almost blew our budget in a day! We stayed at the ferry port at Seixal across the River Tejo the night before. Music from a distant concert provided the soundtrack to a lovely evening spent watching the ebb & flow of the river and the twinkling city lights. It was hot & sticky in Lisbon itself so after lunch we hopped on a city tour bus to see the sights which was great – we wouldn’t have covered a fraction of it on foot.
Next stop on our whistle-stop tour was Obidos which is a fortified, walled city. It is a well-preserved example of medieval architecture & was really atmospheric. Every summer the castle hosts a traditional Medieval Market & for two weeks the castle and the surrounding town recreate the spirit of medieval Europe. The local workmen were just building the “olde towne” as we walked round!
The outstandingly beautiful Barragem da Povoa was our subsequent stop for 3 days of walking, cycling, reading & relaxing. Apart from another van parked at the water’s edge, we were the only people there for most of the time. The aire was much better than expected from our book description with a new shower & toilet block alongside a flat parking area & service point. It was so tranquil with crickets & cuckoos calling in the background. We saw an eagle circling high above hunting for lunch along with a (sadly) dead badger, lizards, a frog & some very large black stripy bugs crossing the road! According to our readings it was in the 40’s in full sun & in the 30’s in the van – lovely!
Next stop was Caceres over the border in Spain after driving 100Km through absolute nothingness! Caceres also has a walled city in the old town but the aire was full & it was packed everywhere so we travelled out of town to a campsite. We’ve since found out it was the WOMAD festival weekend in town & that’s why it was so chaotic & manic. We had a great time at the campsite though with each pitch having its own wet room & hot water on tap – the luxury! Out came the washing machine & we spent the weekend washing & cleaning everything before having another mad family Skype session on Sunday evening 🙂
The following week is a tale of woe, wet weather & even wetter weather! We had a sat-nav malfunction (i.e. John set it wrong) and found ourselves back in Portugal being directed up a mountain track. On the plus side, we did see an old man on a donkey which was delightful. It was still in the 30’s and we found another lovely stopover next to some outdoor swimming pools which unfortunately empty given the weather although the locals are still wearing jumpers & coats!
Pointing the van in the right direction we returned to Spain & to gloomy weather. We travelled up the North West coast headed for Santiago de Compostela – the end of the road for the walkers we’ve seen all along the way on the Camino de Santiago. It was a very wet & cold walk from the campsite along the last stretch of the Camino to the Cathedral. Unfortunately we were too late for the pilgrim’s service (which is held at noon each day) but we did see the tomb of St James. I was looking forward to watching the celebrations in the square outside the Cathedral as the pilgrims arrive at their destination but sadly the weather was atrocious & most people were just wandering round looking shell-shocked & very, very wet! I’d love to go back in better weather.
All along the coast here the houses are clad with square grey tiles & are not rendered which gives them the overall effect of being built with breezeblocks. Each house also has a “coffin” on legs in the garden – further investigation tells me they are “horreo” or a granary & used for drying crops not storing dead relatives!
The weather continued to be awful all week & we had quite a bit of bad luck with some of the aires being closed, no longer in use or, in one case, being used by the circus & the local police came to help us stop traffic as we reversed back down a very steep hill! However the upside of changing our route did mean that we found an area that made cider – at last – even if it did mean donning all our wet weather gear to venture out of the van! We’ve also had a stopover on the edge of a safari park overlooking the elephant enclosure!
The following week saw us stopping at Vitoria-Gastiez before heading to a campsite at Pamplona where they do “that thing with the bulls”. Although our winter coats & boots were back in season and the heater was on we really enjoyed both towns. The hustle and bustle is quite a shock after miles of rural nothingness! It took us about 3 hours to walk into Pamplona from the campsite following the cycling route & only took about 10 minutes to get back in a taxi!
With snow-capped mountains in the distance, we travelled into France through the Tunnel de Somport, a 10Km tunnel cut right through the Pyrenees. Coming out in France was like travelling back in time – the road was a lot narrower, bumpier, bordered by stone walls, waterfalls and big drops. Driving through Arragon we kept stopping to take photos of the mystical green lake and strange landscape. Thunder & lightening accompanied our first Saturday night in France along with (at about 10 0’clock) non-stop car horn beeping & cheering. Can anyone shed any light on this? It also happened the following Saturday night in Rochefort.
Spending a couple of days chilling out beside the river at Fleurance we met another couple of Brits & their lovely dog who had also been in Alvor earlier on in the year – what a small world! We haven’t seen many Brits since leaving Portugal & it was lovely to have someone else to chat to!!!
Eventually heading west we landed at Rochefort at a lovely new aire & the sun even came out on our arrival. We went for a walk after tea & discovered a lovely town built around a naval garrison with a replica frigate called Hermione in dry dock. Yet again live music provided a soundtrack for our evening & we decided to stay for another night so we could have a right good look round the town during the day. Cycling into town the following day we discovered a huge street market selling all kinds of fruit, veg, cheese, flowers, herbs & anything else you can think of! In the botanical gardens friends & families were ‘pique-niquing’ and playing boules in the sunshine – it was absolutely glorious.
Travelling through the beautiful French countryside we’ve returned to the campsite at Lucon that we found on our way to Portugal. We’re spending 3 days here cycling, swimming, sauna & jacuzzi-ing before heading off to explore Brittany. The weather is fabulous & we’re hoping it’ll still that way for our next stage of the adventure. Fingers crossed!