Spain and Portugal, June, 2017
[Mark and Vicki have been traveling pretty much full time since they retired in 2008 and sold their home in Missoula, Montana. They RVed in Europe starting in 2009 for five years in their US Roadtrek, sold it in 2013, and then bought a European camper in 2015. So far, about 50 months in Europe. Mark blogs frequently with lots of pictures at www.roadeveron.blogspot.com. . Vicki's more practical guides to their travels are at their website www.TheRoadGoesEverOn.com.
After Sintra and Foz, we drove on to Obidos, which we had visited and loved in 2010. 12 tour busses and their contents met us in Obidos, however. It was mobbed, worse than Sintra and not with nice, considerate people. New rule: if there are more than 10 tour buses, and unless it's the Taj Mahal or Great Wall or better, move on. We bought our favorite Ginja (cherry liqueur) and moved on to a nearby LeClerc where we recharged our mifi and provisioned.
Next stop, including 10.50 tolls for 30 miles, was Mouriscos and Gordon and Jane's, our friends from the UK, by way of Toulouse, who have relocated now to Portugal. We spent an afternoon and evening with them, and the next morning, and their other guests Maureen and John, fellow RVers, by the pool, drinking, eating mixed grill and trimmings. Their house is a work-in-progress, a renovation, benefiting from Jane's design and Gordon's considerable builder's skills. It is a most interesting place, with an big old brick oven and a still as original built-ins. Also several dozen fruit and olive trees. Here we also learned from our British friends that Brexit is not a issue for discussion, even among close friends. Sort of like Trump in the US.
We drove the next day to Abrantes and then to Tomar, to see the castle and Convento da Cristo, which Jane had recommended. It was impressive, especially the oldest bits. We learned a bit of Templar history, too; very, very interesting.
After Tomar, we were back in the upper Alentajo, looking for the Anta da Tapadao, which we found with relative ease. Another big dolmen, with an especially deep and large interior. And then we drove on to Castel da Vide and beyond up to Marvao. The aire there (N39 23.656, W007 22.417) was full so we drove back down a mile or two to a lay-by and parked there. Next morning we drove back up, parked at the now empty aire (we could not have leveled there) and toured Marvao, which was indeed quite good, perhaps best of the castle/hill towns we have seen. Not touristy at all but for B&Bs and boutique hotels. It was almost disappointing there were so few trinket shoppes.
We drove back down and on small but paved roads north of Castle de Vide, found the Menhir da Meada, which is indeed big, 7 meters. Then we drove on in increasing heat and twisty roads all the way to Belmonte (N40 21.812, W007 20.457) and its Intermarche and very nice small public park and aire. Toilet block with showers, dish washing, BBQ, kiddie park, etc. What every town should do.
The next morning we walked Belmonte, a moderately interesting old town, especially some of its antique stores. We drove on at length to Trancoso, another walled city, almost interesting. Another small walled city, very small castle. Yawn. We drove on—and after an unsuccessful search for the dolmen Carborita or somesuch—and on at length to Lamego and its nice aire (N41 09.384, W7 46.829), under the 3 bridges. 3E including electricity. And a view of the great river Douro and the valley.
From Lamego we drove up to Casa Mateus (remember Mateus? A 60s thing), decided it was a rip-off (8.50 to park, 12.50 admission, 4.50 gardens, 4.00 tasting, all pp; or at the Continente you can buy a bottle for 2.68)), drove back to Lamego (torturous road up and over the mountain to next valley) then on the north bank of the Douro for some miles. Beautiful views, but very twisty and exposed. We got off this eventually and then took the freeway the rest of the way to Porto, getting propane en route. We found the Gaia campground with relative ease and checked in. Another Portuguese beach-side campground with all the amenities, including a resto and bar.
We lazed around reading and blogging through the morning and then took 11:41 bus #906 to the top of hill in Porto, Trindade, the end stop, and began walking our way down, admiring the pretty if sometimes decrepit city. Lots of art nouveau and art deco. We split the local favorite Franschine plate for lunch at the art nouveau Majestic Cafe. On a busy afternoon, we saw the Mercado do Bolhao, the Praca d Liberdade, Camara Municipal, Cafe Majestic, the Clerigos church and tower, the Lello bookstore (meh), the Igreja do Carmo and the Igreja das Carmelitas, and the building separating them, then the Bento train station. Much of the above was to see the azulejos, the blue tile paintings. After Bento, decided to call it a day at 5:30 or so, and took the 906 back to the campground. It was a nice day, nice weather, very nice city. Porto is situated above the river Duoro, very hilly, very up and down. But even more scenic for all that.
The next day we did still more of Porto, the Cathedral and its terrace view, walking in the Ribeiro, the Bolsa, the Franciscan church, walking along the Ribeiro side of the waterfront, crossing the Bridge, walking along the Gaia side, the port (beverage) district and relaxing at Sandeman's, whose port has become Mark's favorite. (Mark believes that while travel is good for humans, it is not so good for beer and wine, so he is at pains to always act globally but drink locally). Our lunch in the Ribeira was a bit less interesting than the cholesterama-Franschine of the previous day, although satisfying and merely 5 euros each. This day our transportation was less than smooth, the in-bound bus side-swiping a car, whose driver literally ran the bus off the road to address the matter. Returning to the campground, we missed the bus stop and walked a mile or so in the wrong direction, up-hill, before getting proper advice. All in all, however, we very much enjoyed Porto and certainly will return...maybe to do the Camino again.
[We interrupt this report, having driven from Porto to Candemil and Vila Nova de Cerveir and the campground Campismo Convivio where we stayed and then stored our camper while we did our 10 days on the Camino de Santiago. See Vicki's previous “El Camino de Santiago (Portuguese)” report.]
[We now return you to our regularly-scheduled report concluding our travels in Spain, Portugal, and Andorra.]
After returning to the campground, we spent the night, and then drove on the next day, across the river, bidding fond farewell to Portugal, back into Spain and O Porrino where we provisioned and re-charged our simcards. And then we drove on, through the mountains, in increasing warmth, to Montforte de Lemos and its aire (N 42 31.667, W 7 30.719). The aire is by the river, well-shaded, but turned out to be noisy because of locals.
Our next stop was Las Medulas, the Roman gold mines. Ancient strip-mining. We explored them briefly—museum and then field sites—but the 90+ degree heat and up-hill walking dampened our interest considerably. (Our camper does not have AC). We drove on, now desperately in search of shade, to the partially-shaded aire at Astorga. Next day we visited the cathedral at Astorga and then visited the so-called Gaudi Palace, which the young Gaudi had designed for the Bishop of Astorga. Nice, if not mature Gaudi. There is also an interesting Camino museum, Astorga being right on the Frances route. There were Caminantes everywhere as the day progressed. We were glad not to be walking The Way these days. In Astorga we also bought some chocolate. Astorga was the town to which Cortez returned, and he brought some cacao with him. The rest is history but not very good chocolate.
The road took us on to Leon, where we easily found its large and almost downtown aire (42.60447, W 5.58423), where we spent a warm night. The next day we toured Leon, a beautiful and historic city we'd somehow missed on previous travels in Spain. The 14th century Gothic cathedral was extensively repaired/rebuilt in the 19th, Baroque interior removed and replaced with Gothic, glazed triforia, tons of stained glass, with an excellent audio tour. Even among the high Gothics in France you rarely see this degree of consistency. St Isidore's church and abbey was the Romanesque antidote to the xathedral, the architecture but also the “sistine chapel” of Romanesque art pretty compelling. The town was lively and interesting. Hundreds of Caminantes passing through, nearly all heavily laden, many our age. Scallop shells and arrows all over the city, as well as trinket shoppes. Apparently Leon is a major stop/start on the Frances route. Next day we did laundry and then moved on. Driving through rest of old city we were quite impressed with buildings, gardens, river, etc. Nice place but for the oven-like temperatures.
We drove on to the Roman Villa La Olmeda (N42 .48055, W .73621). Certainly the largest mostly intact mosaics we have seen yet, an entire villa/farm estate. Not as high quality except in the entrance area, but still fairly breath-taking. It was discovered only in 1968. Castille y Leon/Spain has built a huge building for display/preservation, one of the best we've seen, especially the technical bits.
We continued on, more heat, more Caminantes, along the road, to Fromista and its St. Martin church, 1066, beautiful Romanesque, with tiers of funny faces and also nice capitals. Perhaps most impressive small Romanesque yet. The aire (N42 15.889, W 24 .741) had a bit of shade, especially up next to a big American RV, owned by Britons from Devon. A public fronton was part of the adjacent town sports complex.
The next day was a long driving day, now into the Pyrenees, passing more gorges and Roman ruins, to Ainsa, another bastide recommended by Jane, with a fine little Romanesque church with tiny crypt and cloister. It was very, very dark—good example of why Gothic was invented—but they had a Divine Illumination Machine (as Mark calls it) that stayed on for 5 minutes AND played Gregorian chant. Top that, Italy! We spent the night in the village RV parking lot, 1.50E.
A couple months earlier, at the National Catalonia Museum of Art in Barcelona, we had resolved to visit the Romanesque churches in the Catalonian mountains from which the museum art was taken (for preservation mostly). The whole area is the Valle de Boi. The mountain driving in the Pyrenees was twisty, high angle, not a wide as one would like, something that was a once in a lifetime thing for me, but Mark said it was OK except for stopping now and then to let the radiator settle down. We saw four of the churches—St. Climentis, Santa Maria de Taull, Sant Joan de Boi, and Santa Eulalia—the first three of which had either projected or re-painted or original murals. The architecture was also interesting...ooden roofing but who knows whether it was always that way. I'd recommend these but only if you're really, really, really into Romanesque murals. Or on your way to Andorra.
We had decided earlier to drive through to Andorra (another country to notch on the steering wheel!) on N260 which turned out to be OK but very high angle, from about 1600 feet to 5160. We had to stop three times to let radiator get out of the red zone. At length we made it to Andorra, and parked at the aire in St. Julia. At the higher altitude at least it was pleasantly cool. Next morning we drove the length of the country, basically a small Montana canyon, and were fairly impressed, actually. Mark was particularly impressed by the giant LeClerc's and its extensive selection of cheap booze. There are no sales taxes in Andorra, so pretty much everything is at fire-sale rates. We drove on, stopping at assorted Roman/Medieval bridges, up and down another 5,000 ft pass, eventually to Quart, near our storage center in Figueres. That night was memorable for the fireworks celebrating King Joan's Feast Day, the hoped-for Catalonian day of independence. Fireworks outside our door until 3AM.
Our Iberian adventure of 2017 was finished, highly successful, but finished, and in the continuing heat (and mosquitoes) we spent the last couple days in Figueres packing and readying our little camper for storage over the rest of the summer and into the fall. ¡Hasta la vista!