A Travellerspoint blog

Sun and Fun in Portugal

May 5 to May 21 - Viana do Castelo to Lisbon

sunny 25 °C

Before I start raving and glowing with praise for Portugal, silly Paul forgot to mention that we visited Santiago de Compostela on our last day in Spain, and asked me to tag it on to the start of this entry ☺

Santiago de Compostela is a few things… it’s probably most famously the finishing point of the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, undertaken by young and old (and a whole range in between, as we saw along the way) from all over Europe, along the signposted routes through the north of Spain. There are many routes that can be taken to reach Santiago, the most popular being 780km long!

When the trek is done, pilgrims mosey on into the main sqaure and gaze in awe at the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, built over centuries and therefore a mix of gothic, roman and baroque infuences – this is the supposed burial place of St James (Santiago), and you can go inside, underneath the floor and view his final resting place.

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The rest of the town is full of alleyways and medieval style buildings, but unfortunately the tacky cafes and gift shops/money grabbing have somewhat overrun what is meant to be a classic, spiritual and peaceful town (in my opinion).

NOW! PORTUGAL!!

Our first stop was the northen seaside town of Viana do Castelo, the closest campsite being over the river and part of a nationwide chain called Orbitur (we have become very, very familiar with them!) We biked into town and wandered the waterfront, through a small but popular antique market. We took the funicular railway up Santa Luiza Hill to get a great view of the town, the beach and the area in general. Up there is also the Templo do Sagrado Coracao de Jesus (another church), which you can access the dome right up the top and get an even better view via numerous, steep, and very narrow stairs ☺ Fun!!

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We found ourselves at the local shopping centre and absolutely starving… we overshot Maccas and opted for a more local looking takeaway joint (I’d been dying to find some Portugese chicken, but I guess here it’s just chicken…). We ended up with flame grilled ½ chicken, chips, rice, salad and a drink for EUR5.50 each… what a bargain, and the servings were huge!

After a couple of nights I couldn’t take it anymore… I had a jingle in my head…

Just Gotta Go… Porto!!

Only about an hour further south, Porto is the 2nd biggest city in Portugal and most famous for producing port. Aside from knowing I wouldn’t be able to find a Bondi Burger anywhere, I’d read an article online awhile ago stating that Porto had been listed as one of the best summer cities in the world, alongside the likes of Barcelona and Sydney but didn’t quite know what else to expect, but I was really excited nonetheless.

We stayed at another Orbitur near Vila Nova de Gaia, south of the city, which is where most of the port cellars and manufacturers are based. The weather was gorgeous and we were looking forward to riding the bikes into town the next day, and planned to walk everywhere, see everything and eat everything!

When we woke up it was pouring rain and really windy – so we decided to take the local bus instead! The buses in Porto are quite regular and announce the “proxima paragem” (next stop) as you’re going along which was a bit of a godsend… but the roads and alleys that these buses fly up were so narrow and crowded at times, it made me glad to arrive in town safely! We climbed the 200 odd stairs to the top of the Torre dos Clerigos to get a fantastic view of the city, had coffee and pastries at a great little shop up a sidestreet near the Town Hall, and sampled 6 different local ports paired with fruit jams and chocolate at Vinologica. Feeling warm and fuzzy, we strolled the Ribeira (riverside) area towards our bus stop, and made sure we didn’t leave empty handed…

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We then stayed at a nice little seaside town called Figueira da Foz for a couple of nights before we arrived in Peniche, the surf capital of Portugal – we loved it so much we ended up staying for a week! The municipal campground there was so cheap and close to 2 great surf beaches, including the world famous Supertubos.

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I had a friend, Sara, stop by for a few days to hang out and catch up between a trip to London and the USA (hope you’ve ended up with the time to read this!) The 3 of us spent a day checkng out the nearby village of Obidos, which is surrounded by a wall and was once a wedding present… the whole town!

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While there we sampled some of the local produce – sour cherry liqueur served in a dark chocolate cup…. Like the best Cherry Ripe you could imagine!

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After saying goodbye, it was time for a few days of lazing on the beach in Baleal and surfing… I finally decided to have a go for the first time and got a couple of lessons, and I think I’m hooked!

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We’ve now been in the Lisbon area for about 3 days, 2 of which we spent checking out the city on 24 hour Yellow Bus tour and transport tickets (I hadn’t done enough research and we ended up a bit overwhelmed with what to see or do!). On weekends the city opens up most of it’s attractions to the public free of charge from 10am to 2pm (monuments on Saturdays, museums on Sundays with the exception of the Castelo de Sao Jorge and a couple of other smaller ones) so this worked out really well for us. While in Lisbon, we had the opportunity to try pasteis de nata (portugese tarts) from their birthplace in Belem, specifically one shop in particular and I’ve never seen a pastry shop so crowded - literally, lines out the door! They are worth the wait though. Tarts so creamy and so fresh that they were still warm from the oven! Also, on recommendation from multiple guide books and other resources, we went out for dinner and drinks at a late night fado club in the Alfama area of the city. Neither of us knew what Fado sounded like, or what a 'club' would be like, but we were both very pleasantly surprised! Though the music has a very melancholy sound (and no doubt, lyrics... if we could understand them) it was a very spirited performance from the 3 singers, and the atmosphere of the club was fantastic! There also appeared to be some off duty singers having their dinner, as at random points during the night, the performers would single out certain audience members and get them to join in with what can only be described as well-trained singing voices. It was possibly the most culturally rewarding thing we have done on the trip so far, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for something different (insiders tip though - don't go to the big clubs if you are looking to save a bit of coin, they charge like a wounded bull! We went to a small restaurant/club after checking out some of the other more expensive places, and the atmosphere was far more entertaining, while the food and drinks were a 3rd of the price!)

We are now off to Sagres in the Algarve area of Portugal for some more sun and surf, before heading on to Lagos and Seville. Hope to have some more pics etc. for you soon!

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 02:50 Archived in Portugal Comments (2)

We have run out of West.... Bugger it, lets go South!

April 27 to May 4 - Mundaka to Viana Do Castelo

all seasons in one day 16 °C

Hi all, Paul here - taking over the blog duties for this week :)

So we are now at the pointy end of our 4th week on the road, and it pains me to say, that of those 4 weeks we have had at least 3 weeks of rain! Yay!

We did fully prepare ourselves for the fact that mother nature doesn't always have the same plans as the rest of us, but I would be lying if I said it hasn't affected our mood at all, especially given the fantastic scenery we have been forced to enjoy from the comfort of our van.

Taking that into account, it has been up and down since the last entry. We decided to stay an extra night in Mundaka and we (more me I guess) were rewarded with picture perfect conditions the next morning, with the world class left firing to life.

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It was very, very crowded. But, by some kind of luck I actually managed to score a few good waves! Sadly Kate had some difficulties finding me amongst the other neoprene covered dots floating about the lineup - so no epic pics of me shredding....

From Mundaka, we headed west towards Bilbao with the intention of checking out the Guggenheim, but when when got there, we found the motorhome parking area was closed. After a vain attempt to find somewhere suitable to camp for the night, getting lost in the centre of Bilbao for our troubles (our mate TomTom decided to have a dummy spit mid-city!) We (read - I) got annoyed with 'yet another big city' and decided to head for the hills (literally - Bilbao is in a massive valley) On our way though we did get a chance to see the much talked about Guggenheim.

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I am no architecture critic, and I may be biased, but the Opera House in Sydney is much more impressive ;)

We spent that night at a random rest stop on the motorway near Santander. The next day we cruised the coast, mainly with the intention of finding somewhere nice to camp for a little while, but mostly just because it is a fantastic drive! The north coast of Spain is bordered by four separate mountain ranges that somehow seem to blend into one. One minute you will be at the bottom of a valley staring up at the enormous peaks, the next you are at the top of the world staring down into a gaping, lush, green valley, that looks so perfect, you could be forgiven for think it was a painting.

After racking up some miles hugging the coast, we found a very quiet little campsite nestled down in one of those picturesque valleys, right in front of a beach called 'playa españa'.

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A really beautiful spot, with only one real downside -

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Yep. We got bogged. Again.
On a positive note, I am learning valuable vehicle recovery techniques!

After a night at playa españa, and a great surf the following morning, the ever present urge to 'see whats around the next corner' kept us heading west past Gijon, and into the little town of Luarca. The town itself was not a grand masterpiece, but the spot we found just outside of town was -

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Our bedroom view :)
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We found an amazing little beach just down the road, where a small river the that runs through the mountain ranges meets the Atlantic, forming a great little sandbar for me to have a little paddle around. Note to all readers - mountain rivers are FUCK-OFF COLD! I'm talking numb hands and number feet after about half an hour.... super fun! Another bonus, the river leaves thousands river-stones along the beach, and Kate and I spent an arvo just skimming stones along the water - its amazing how the little things can still entertain us.

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We left Luarca and kept heading west for A Coruña, the capital of Galicia. Still not in the mood for 'another big city' I was very pleasantly surprised when we arrived to find A Coruña was very much like San Sebastian - a cross between city, and coastal town. We stayed in the car park at the base of the 'Torre de Hercules', the oldest Roman lighthouse still in operation.

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A Coruña was our first real taste of Galicia. I had been told that it was different to the rest of Spain, and it was obvious straight away that he Galicians are very proud of their region - they have their own version of the Spanish beer 'Estrella' called 'Estrella Galicia' (both very nice) - but they also seem to have a friendlier vibe than the ares we had travelled through up to then (not that anywhere was unfriendly though) we managed to squeeze in a visit to Castillio de San Anton, where we were able to check out some genuine Galicia relics like the armour worn in the 17th century -

(This ones for Anne - genuine chainmail!! :) )
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And there was this boat - I couldn't work out what year it was built, but my hat goes off to the guys that would trust it enough to use it - the bloody thing is made of twigs and cow skin! Not leather - cow skin. You could still see the fur on the outside of the boat!

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We also checked out the Planet-arium (for the South Park fans ;) ) which I would definitely recommend. We then headed over to the old town for a stroll through the tiny alleyways dripping with charm, and we somehow ended up in the local cemetery, which morbid as it sounds, was actually strangely interesting. It wasn't the hole in the ground style graveyard we are used to, but more of the tomb in a wall variety.

Since Coruña, we have made our way south into Portugal, into another culture and language (just as I was starting to get some sort of confidence with my Spanish!) and it looks like we should be getting some epic weather along with some swell, which couldn't have come sooner! Sadly with the rain, rain and well, more rain, we both still look like we have spent the last year living in London (funny that?) So hopefully by the next entry we will have some pics of Surfed out, bronzed up, happy as Larry Aussies for you!

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 08:32 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

Basque-ing :)

April 22 to 26 -Zarautz to Mundaka

all seasons in one day 15 °C

Another slight gap between entries, but only because we've been hard pressed finding (and wanting to drop coin on) places with internet :)

Alright! So still soaking up the Basque Country in the north of Spain... and loving it, as we knew we would! Last year we spent a few days in San Sebastian after the Pamplona trip, and we were really looking forward to getting back. On the beach from either end of town, you get this gorgeous panoramic view.

After 2 nights at a really well set up campsite in Zarautz, up on a hill and overlooking the town and it's beach (staff there said they were expecting around 1000 young Aussies and Kiwis after this years San Fermin, the festival in Pamplona which includes the Running of the Bulls - twice as many as they had last year. I feel sorry for them), we found a cheap parking area (EUR3.10 in winter months, doubles for summer) in the university area of San Sebastian, just to the west of the town and spent a further 2 nights there.

San Sebastian has numerous bike lanes running all around town, which we took advantage of. The town itself is quite flat and easy enough to ride around. Our first afternoon we decided to walk in, there we got a couple of cans of San Miguel and sat on the sand at Playa de Zurriola and watched the surfers do their thing. Paul started to regret not bringing his board down :( After a walk around town we had some pintxos (the basque word for tapas) in the old town before we headed back to the van. The next day we took the bikes, and battled some fairly strong winds on the way back (it was like riding up a steep hill). It felt like another storm was on the way... which it was. It hit quite nicely that night. We could hear what sounded like a car alarm going off somewhere nearby, and it seemed to only sound when there was a big gust of wind. It got really annoying after awhile, and after vowing to find the owner if it hadn't stopped by bedtime, we found the source... it was on top of a crane with a motion sensor just to the side of the parking lot, where there was a tiny bit of construction work going on. We spent a few minutes deciding wether to try to find somewhere else to move to for the night, or wether we'd risk getting smooshed by the crane in the middle of the night. Paul made the point that if the crane hadn't come down in the last storm, it wouldn't come down in this one. I was no longer paranoid.

On Tuesday we made a move for Mundaka - about an hour and a half from San Sebastian (taking the well made toll road), and home of another famous surf break for Paul to tackle if the conditions we right. The only campsite on the same side of the valley is Portuondo, and it's expensive compared to everywhere else we've stayed so far. But it's just a quick walk into town, which is full of pretty cobblestone streets and alleyways. The weather finally cleared up enough for us to air out the van and go for a nice long walk - we'd pick up some cheap, cheap, cheap bottles of local wine at a supermarket on the way into town, so we took them and the laptop up to the bar at the top of the campsite and watched the NRL City vs Country match online... while we had a glorious view of the estuary below and the valley surrounds. Best way to watch footy ever :)

We found a beach on the other side of the valley, called Playa Laida... and the surf was pretty good! Paul had a good session there, the best so far on the trip :)

Today we're going to make our way up the road a little bit to a town called Bermeo for a few cheap/free nights, then hopefully get around to some sight seeing in Bilbao.

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 04:05 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Hola!

April 14 to 21 - Bordeaux to Zarautz

rain 10 °C
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I promise the massive gap between updates is not intentional!

Let's see what we've learnt this week...

1) Paulie is human after all :D

I thought I was going to be the first one to stack it on the pushbikes... we had a relatively nice, flat ride into Bordeaux last weekend. Most of the roads have a signed bike lane, or where they don't the drivers do tend to be courteous and careful and don't try to run you down like they do in the UK. On our way in, we did hear an ambulance siren coming up behind us on a road with no bike lane, so up the gutter we went... and off Paul came. He only ended up with an elbow boo-boo. On the whole, Bordeaux is quite nice - after parking and locking our bikes up at Place de la Victoire (next to some other bikes with missing wheels and frames...probably should have thought to park elsewhere) we strolled up through the shopping street of Rue St Catherine (cheap, nasty SES style clothes, shoes etc) and to the river that runs through town, La Garonne. We checked out the Musee d'Aquitaine (roman relics, general history of Bordeaux etc... nothing in English, which we were starting to get used to) then had to hide in a small shopping centre when it started to rain. We did find a couple of really nice local wines to take back to the van.

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2) Pollen... gets... everywhere... and neither of us have allergies! Yay!

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On Sunday we left Bordeaux and headed about one and a half hours away towards the coast, and the pleasantly surprising little surfie town of Biscarosse. On the way we stopped off at Dune de Pilat - yet another amazing beauty formed by nature set up as a slightly tacky tourist trap (parking and spending time at the Dune is free for the first 30 minutes, or you can get a 4 hour pass for EUR4.00 for cars, or EUR8.00 for vans, campers, buses. You can't get up the dune and back in 30 minutes unless you sprint up and straight back down, no time to breathe or to enjoy the epic view...but, on the way in, you have 2 ticket machines. A short one, and a taller one. Not thinking that the short one is for cars and the taller one for vans and campers, I got a ticket from the shorter one because, well, it was closer to me and where I was hanging out the window... saved us EUR4.00! by accident!) We found a free aire just a short bike ride out of Biscarosse, right near a beach. Pretty much our whole stay there was windy as hell. We had a lot of shade and alot of trees and almost everything had a yellow tinge to it. Yep. Was pollen. But, the town was so cute and the aire was so pretty and forest-like (and free) that we ended up staying there for 2 nights. When we left on Tuesday we had to give the van a little rinse-off, and I'm still finding things in the van that are a bit yellow dusty.

3) When the Camperstop Europe book says an aire has a toilet, it doesn't mean it does...

We had heard from one of the surf shop employees in Biscarosse that a big storm was coming and was due to hit the coast on Wednesday. With this in mind, we thought we'd try and get ourselves somewhere a bit more open with less trees. We headed into Vieux-Boucau -les-Bains because it looked like a nice little town with a cheap aire that at least had a bathroom (according to that damned book). After taking our ticket and driving around, we found no bathroom. We asked other campers (who, by the way, have those massive big RV/Winnebego style motorhomes with full bathroom), they said there was one over the road at the beach. It was closed. We ended up with no choice but to pay the EUR6.00 for the pleasure of driving around this little aire for 10 minutes and leaving in order to find an actual caravan park. We decided to head straight down to Biarritz, near the Spanish boarder. We had wanted to go there last year when we did Pamplona & San Sebastian, but had not had the time.

4) When it rains, it freakin pours...

We got to Biarritz (we stayed at Biarritz Camping) on Tuesday afternoon. It started sprinkling. We thought fair enough, there is a storm due. At least it might generate some decent swell so Paul can go for a surf. We got the pushies off the back of the van and got ready to ride into town (only about 2-3km away) and the rain started getting heavier. I decided to stay with the van (plus I'd hurt my knee whilst riding around Biscarosse) while Paul rode off into town. When he came back, he said we'd have to make it in there tomorrow because the town was really, really nice. The rain got heavier, so we entertained ourselves with canned food, books and Big Bang Theory. We walked into town on Wednesday, went into the History of Biarritz Musee, and got rained on. Lots and lots. The storm hit overnight and the rain just did not let up. The sea was churning out huge, washing machine like waves. Our camping pitch turned from grass into mud, which meant any trips to the bathroom or the shop resulted in muddy shoes in the van. The van also got bogged in the mud when we tried to leave on Thursday. A few other campers and myself ended up pushing it from behind whilst Paul tried to drive it over planks of wood. We thought it would be nice to find somewhere a lot less grassy for our last night in town.

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5) Paul, I'll see your elbow graze, and raise you a 2 fingers slammed in a door...

As we were pulling out of Biarritz Camping, I realised I had to run into reception to give back my ID bracelet. The door wouldn't budge for me for some reason, and I could see the ladies inside motioning for me to push it harder. Turns out the door was closed past where it's meant to be, and as I gave it an almighty push it took left hand pinky and ring finger through with it. Nothing broken, no stitches or anything like that, just 2 very swollen and bruised digits with a couple of nice little cuts.

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We made it to Zarautz, just west of San Sebastian in Spain last night... and what do you know, it's raining.

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 03:00 Archived in France Comments (1)

Bordering Bordeaux

April 12 to 13 - Saint Malo to Bordeaux

all seasons in one day 13 °C
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Pooped!! We had an awesome day yesterday checking out Saint Malo, though we worked hard for it – 12km (edit: I only told Kitty it was a 12km round trip so she would be up for it - was actually over 20km ;) - Paul) round trip bike ride to and from… worth it though, don’t think we’d ever seen a town surrounded by a wall like that before. It also used to be a haven for pirates, and in the later years was a lookout point and fortress during WW2. We were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day for our walk around the length of the wall, peered over to Fort du Petit Be and Fort National (which is cut off during high tide – you can walk over to it at low tide) then made our way into Cathedrale St Vincent (one of the oldest and most stunning in Europe – was quite badly damaged in an attack in 1944) before we grabbed the bikes and rode over to Cite d’Alet. Heaps of nice boats and sailboats docked and getting repaired there, and also a WW2 memorial site.

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On the grueling ride home, I decided we earnt ourselves some cheeses, biccies, chocolate and beer for when we got back to the van ☺

We decided today was going to be a driving day – because our legs were thrashed from the bike ride yesterday, and because it’s a 7 hour drive to Bordeaux, our next stop. We still have to pinch ourselves – we’re driving through France, everyone speaks French… good stuff ☺ And this is just the start!! We found a nice little stop this afternoon so I could make us some lunch. It was like we were looking at a postcard – blue sky with just a few clouds, sun shining down, fields of green, yellow and red with a little farm house over to the side. I really do feel so lucky that we’re able to do this.

We’re at a small camperstop about 8-10km outside of Bordeaux, which is fine as there are buses just up the road. Finally somewhere with some internet (pretty crap, it keeps cutting out - can't complain I guess) so I can post these, real showers and a washing machine (though I think we can hold out until we get down to Biarritz) ☺

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 10:02 Archived in France Comments (0)

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