A Travellerspoint blog

Week 9: Picturesque Portugal

A holiday with Jo

This week started with a sad goodbye to Emilia in Vale, then a couple of hour drive down to Porto to pick up Jo from the airport. Emilia is originally from Porto so we felt like we had quite a few insider tips up our sleeves to tackle the city, and she pulled through first thing with a good carpark for us to pull into without having to go through too many narrow streets. We are hoping to get back to Emilias before we leave Europe - perhaps grape harvest at the end of September. Porto is an amazing city, lots of narrow cobbled streets, nice bridges, hills which made for cool views..... and of course port wine. We learned that port wine can only be called port if it is grown in a specific valley (Douro) up the river from Porto near the spanish border, then matured for 1 year in the valley before being bought down to Vila Nova de Gaia, which is effectively a suburb across the river from Porto proper. It's a pretty big deal there, with lots of different cellars or "Caves" that you can go and do tastings at. All of the big port companies also traditionally transported the port down the river on cool boats, which are all moored along the bank and add to the beauty.
One of our favourite parts of Porto was the bridge designed by Mr Eiffel of Tower fame, which is on 2 levels and you can walk across the lower car part and the upper part which the metro goes on. Spectacular. We spent the night in Porto doing a port tasting, eating grilled food at a place recommended by the tasting lady, and starting to explore. Porto has heaps of coloured tiled buildings, which were beautiful, and the train station in particular has gorgeous tiled art on the walls. Maybe it is a trend we can bring back to Grant Rd. We bought a set of 3 tiles from a local artist to start our collection.
The next morning, we continued to explore Porto, and following Emilia and Chris's advice went into the cathedral, the inside of which was mostly gold plated, the catacombs, and the Livraria Lello, possibly the most beautiful bookshop in the world. It apparently inspired JK Rowling to write about Hogwarts (she lived in Porto as an English teacher for 2 years prior to writing the books). We weren't allowed to take photos but stole some from google... Before we left Porto we visited Graham's port factory, and did a tasting and tour, which was amazing. We could have stayed at least another week in Porto, so much to explore, but had to keep on going that afternoon, and ended up camping on the beach in a small town, and cooking BBQ chicken.
On Wednesday, we drove down to Sintra, a small town outside Lisboa. It is a beautiful green town, with lots of amazing buildings. We spent the day exploring the gardens and Castelo Da Pena, the Portuguese national palace. Unlike the very grey stone castles we saw in France, this one was heavily arab influenced, with lots of colour and tiling. It was on the top of a big hill and had pretty spectacular views. We were reluctant to leave Sintra, but thought we should move on to Lisboa. Big mistake, the traffic was absolutely manic, and Andrew did a fantastic job getting us out in one piece. We ended up staying in a campground outside of town and weren't brave enough to venture back the next morning. Lisboa has also got some pretty good bridges, including a pretty convincing Golden Gate replica.
We had been told that the Algarve region of Portugal was well worth a visit, so we headed with pretty high expectations south on Thursday. We headed first for a point near the town of Sagres, which is the most southwestern point in Europe, and it turns out is a spectacular place to watch the sun go down. We cooked pizza for dinner and watched the sunset atop high cliffs, pretty breathtaking. And probably our most beautiful camp spot yet, with soothing waves crashing against the rocks below us.
Friday was devoted to exploring the Algarve more, and we made the most of our time in Lagos, a portside town. We wandered the streets, and scored a bargain 13 small mackerel for dinner for 1 Euro from a fish market. By far the best part of Lagos for us was taking a boat trip, 10 euros each for a 1 hour trip where a guy drove us around the point to explore the grottos, caves carved into the rock by the sea. The layers in the rocks were spectacular, and we were lucky enough to go at low tide so we could get right inside lots of the caves for a close look. We stayed in a port town just over the Spanish border for the night. Nice place, but not such a great camping spot, we spent the night being woken by a drunken Englishman who had just been dumped, and a Spanish woman yelling because her car wouldn't start...for about an hour.....
For Jo's last day, we went to Seville. We learned from our Lisboa experience, and decided to go straight for the camping ground on the outskirts of town and then bus into the centre, a much better idea for everyone's nerves. Seville is a beautiful city, with a gorgeous semicircular palace in the centre, complete with moat and pretty cool gardens. The cathedral is meant to be stunning, but we were too late to go in, which was disappointing since the tapas style lunch we had to make us late was decidedly average. We decided to use our exploration energy to see the Arab palace, Alcazar instead. This palace is still used by the Spanish royal family, and is gorgeous, lots of intricate plaster work and carving, along with beautiful gardens. We found a local pub for a dinner of beer, wine and slightly better tapas before heading back to camp for the night.
Jo's week with us seemed to fly by, and Sunday saw us dropping her off in Jerez, before heading south to Gibraltar. We stopped at a cool beach outside of Tarifa for lunch and watched hundreds of kite surfers doing their thing in the waves in front of us. With Africa in the background, it made for a pretty spectacular vista. Tonight, we are staying in a campground in Gibraltar planning a ferry to Morocco hopefully tomorrow. Watch this space.

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Posted by Andrew and Lisa 12:32 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

Week 8: The idyllic northern hills of Portugal

Life on the farm

Week 8 seemed to have a heavy food focus...

We started the week by cooking a 'meal from our country' this consisted of seafood chowder, home made bread, roast NZ lamb, roast kumara, roast potatos, NZ wine and finally a pavalova with kiwi fruit on for dessert. About as kiwi as we could get. The one problem arose when we confused cornflour for corn starch so the pav was a lot flatter than normal.

The rest of the week we were kept busy preparing for the weekend market in Paredes de Coura (about 45 mins drive from Emilias). This mostly involved labelling and packing up jams, liquors, smoked meats and baking biscuits. On Tuesday we dropped Chris, the American Helpex worker to the bus, the bus left really early in the morning so we ended up having cocktails in Arcos de Valdevez and staying the night in town. On Wednesday morning we had a walk around the Arcos (pronounced R-cooossh) market, this was full of fresh produce including a lot of live chickens, ducks and rabbits.

On Friday we packed up the van and drove to Paredes de Coura to setup the stall at the market. We had lunch at a cute little pub in town, beef short ribs which were stewed, and fried small oily fish - very simple and delicious! The weather was great for the market, but very few people came on the Friday so we spent most of the afternoon wandering the town and trying a bit more of the local food. A highlight was definitely the moela (chicken gizzards) and the bifana (pork sandwich). One thing we've definitely notice is that Portugese people love their meat! We also had a big slab of salted cod which is really common around here, gets salted and dried, then rehydrated. Bit too salty and fishy for our tastes. It was also cool walking around the markets with Emilia, who knew a lot of the producers and also could tell us stories and local legends. Our favourite story was about the embroidered handkerchiefs that we saw in every second stall. Apparently it is traditional in Portugal for a woman to embroider a handkerchief for her fiance after he has asked her to marry him. He wears it in his pocket hanging out so that all the other women in the village know he is spoken for!

On Saturday we decided to do a loop trip down through Braga and back up through the national park. Braga is the fourth biggest city in Portugal and had a pretty impressive city centre full of old churches with coloured tile frontages. We tried yet another local favourite in Braga a Francesinha. This is really a meat packed sandwich, at least four kinds of meat - pork, sausage, chorico, salami, all topped with way too much cheese, a sweet tomato sauce and an egg. And came with a side of fries....couldn't finish it, just too much. That night, we drove north into the national park, and stayed near a place called Rio Caldo, literally hot river, and there is meant to be hot springs there. It was about 25 degrees so we weren't that keen for a hot pool, which turned out well since we couldn't find the pools anywhere. It was a funny town, well prepared for a lot of tourists, with picnic tables and things everywhere, but noone around.

Sunday found us heading back north through the national park (Parque Nacional da Peneda-GerĂªs) and back to Vale. We stopped at the Portugal-Spain border and along with the local cows tried to get a coffee, but had to move on to a little Spanish town for this. We also saw a Castelo, which had lots of beautiful grain stores beside it. We then picked Emilia up to take her to the market to pick up the rest of the produce. Portugal is in the midst of some pretty hard times at the moment, and artisan producers like Emilia are feeling it, seems like people just don't have the money to spend on handmade goods. Her niece and partner manned the stall over the weekend, and in total only a handful of jams and sausages were sold. We're not even sure that she made enough money to cover fuel there and back. And all of the other producers seemed to be in the same boat. It was pretty sad. Although Andrew has tried hard to stimulate the economy through purchasing 60c coffees and 90c beers. By the time we waited for the market to shut at 7 and packed everything away it was pretty late, and we didn't get back to Arcos until about 9pm, so we went out for dinner to Emilia's favourite local restaurant, and had a huge feed of skewered meat, and delicious traditional desserts - biscuit cake, laite creme - literally milk creme but sort of like a lemon creme brulee and delicious chocolate mousse.

So far the people we have meet in Portugal are incredible friendly and have reasonable english - although all claim they have none. Our 10 days with Emilia have gone so quickly, we are really sad to be leaving, but looking forward to picking up Jo on Monday in Porto and having more adventures. We have lots of local tips on things to see and do in Portugal now, so should be an exciting week coming up.

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Posted by Andrew and Lisa 02:17 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Week 7: Basking in Spain

Spain to Portugal

The week begins in Spain, where we spent Monday travelling further around the northern coast, first to Bilbao (we had 2 missions in Bilbao and failed at both - buying fish didn't succeed as markets were shut, and although we saw the outside of the Guggenheim museum it was also shut so didn't get to have a very good look around). Very nice town though, with good coffee and standout iberico ham sandwiches (black pigs that eat acorns). The weather wasn't great but we also had a quick look around Santander, before we stopped for the night camping site by the beach. We don't think we were technically meant to stay there but we weren't the only campervans and figured there was power in numbers.
Tuesday was another day of driving along the north coast. We stopped for lunch at a beautiful little fishing village, where we bought anchovies, sea bass and squid for dinner from this little old Spanish lady, who was a wizard with a pair of scissors and cleaned the fish before we could even blink. We had a couple of coffees along the way in little towns, and for dinner we had a delicious bbq on a beautiful inlet where we camped the night.
The next day, we joined the pilgrims and made our way to Santiago, our last city in Spain. After nearly 2 weeks of wild camping, we decided to splash out there and stayed in our first camping ground. This turned out to be a good choice, we got our clothes washed, had our first real showers in ages, and the weather was terrible, so we watched a good couple of band of brothers episodes. There was a supermarket really close to the campground, which had the most incredible selection of hams, smoked meats and sausages we've ever seen. In the morning, the weather was much better and we ventured into town. We joined a church service in the huge central cathedral, which was pretty impressive, with a huge incense burner which the priests got swinging nearly up to the roof. The altar was completely covered in gold leaf. The centre of Santiago has a huge number of different churches, and there were masses of religious people complete with walking sticks and backpacks to fit into the pilgrim image. The local specialty is hot chocolate (melted chocolate slightly thinned down) with churros - delicious! We were pretty sad to leave Spain, but excited to get to Portugal to meet our Helpx host Emilia.
We stopped for lunch just over the Portuguese border, outside an ancient fort, then dropped Andy in Viana do Castelo, before making our way to Vale, where Emilia's quinta is.
Emilia has a small farmlet, with a vineyard, big vegetable gardens, and animals (a huge pig, 4 sheep, 3 ducks, 3 dogs and a chicken). She makes a living by producing traditional Portuguese products and selling them at markets, including sausages, hams, liquors, wine, different jams and also biscuits. For Helpx, we are meant to work for 5 hours per day, and in return our host provides us with 3 meals per day and a bed. Very good deal - the first day at work we spent helping to make sausages - large ones made from marinated turkey breast stuffed into pork intestines, then smaller sausage with diced pork in mutton intestines. Day 2 we did some weed whacking (Andrew was a pro at this from his eco warrior days), picked some Loquat fruit, then made some more sausage. One of the sausages was a mixture of rabbit, chicken and breadcrumbs in mutton intestine - apparently the jews made these during the inquisition to trick people into thinking they were cooking pork sausages and consequently would avoid being burnt at the stake in the town centre. After we filled the sausages Emilia cures them in her huge cold smoker for several days, before vacuum packing and selling at various markets around the place. We have been having delicious traditional Portuguese food, including sausage cooked in flaming brandy, rabbit, fondue all served with Emilia's home made wine!
Emilia has Chris, another helpx worker with her at the moment, and he has been great at showing us the ropes and telling us about life in the Southern USA. and talking food (he has a culinary degree, and quit his job as a college professor in USA to travel for 2 years and learn more about cooking). We quite often have a beer with him and Ben, a UK expat who owns a cool block of land in the village, and runs a campground from there over summer, complete with solar showers, composting toilet and big organic vege garden. We helped Ben build a roof on his outdoor kitchen during the week, from bamboo poles and fibreglass - would probably not meet NZ health and safety regs!
On Sunday, Emilia was tied up helping with the European elections as a vote counter, so we took the chance to explore the area, and went for a beautiful drive through the nearby national park. The park borders Spain and Portugal and is full of tiny towns with beautiful stone cottages, and gorgeous changing scenery with every turn in the road - waterfalls and rock pools, rock formations, bushland, rivers and lakes.
We have another week to go here with Emilia. Our big challenge for next week is to cook a New Zealand meal for Emilia and her 10 friends and family - apparently it is a tradition for her helpers to cook one meal while they are here..... Will be interesting to see what we can rustle up, as we write this the pavlova is in the oven.
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Posted by Andrew and Lisa 15:46 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Week 6: Castles, churches and megaliths

Mostly eating a lot of baguettes

The next week began with a trip to Mont Saint Michel, this abbey on a rock that was initially built on in the 8th century. It was absolutely incredible, beautiful buildings and amazing engineering. We spent most of the day there, and pushed on south in the late afternoon. We spent the night camped in an Aire (French for rest area that you're allowed to camp in) terrified that someone was going to rob us. Not quite as scenic as our other campsites but did the job.
Tuesday we took a trip way back in time to see megalithic structures at a place called Carnac. Think stonehenge on steroids - lots of rows of big rocks put up 6000 years ago by Neanderthals stretching over kilometres. Pretty cool. We got pretty lucky with the camp overnight too, stayed in a really nice Aire beside a river.
Wednesday and Thursday we spent in the Loire Valley playing kings and queens, and visiting castles. The whole area is spectacular, you can see why the rich and famous liked to have summer houses there back in the day. You can pay to go in and look around some of the castles and their gardens. So we chose 2 to see. On Wednesday we went to Chateau Chenonceau which looked like it was straight out of a fairytale, spanning a river, with lots of turrets and beautiful gardens. The next day we saw Chateau Chambord, which was built for King Francis I as a hunting retreat with over 400 rooms and a huge fenced hunting area. Gives a whole new meaning to having a man-cave! That night we started our trek south towards Spain, and stayed again on the side of the road at a pretty cool Aire complete with multiple bats.
On Friday we drove down the west coast of France, stopping in Bordeaux for lunch. We stopped at a small beach town called Moillet in the park right next to a camping ground and spent the money saved on camping on overpriced beer at the beach. The beach was night but it was 40% sand 60% plastic, bit of a let down.
In France, we managed to maintain our 1 baguette each per day record. Digestion starting to suffer, but who can argue with 85 cents each?
Saturday we crossed the border into Spain (bit of a let down actually, passports didn't even have to come out of the safe. We were expecting a big gate and big guys with machine guns or something, given it is Basque country). We headed straight to San Sebastian. Slept the night in hotel Sundance on the beachfront after a delicious meal of Pintox (Basque tapas, we had a iberico sandwich, calamari, pork, prawns, croquettas, and cheap beer).
The next morning we were stuck in our carpark until after lunch because there was some kind of running race on, so took the chance to explore. We went swimming, climbed a mountain to see a giant statue of Jesus, ate some more delicious food, and soaked up a lot of atmosphere (Muz and Andy particularly enjoyed the beach, lots of topless Spanish sunbathers). Stayed the night in a town on the coast next to a monastry on a rock, a Spanish slightly more modest Mont-St-Michel. Had a lot of 1 euro ciders at the local pub.
Impressions of Spain so far - delicious food, cheap beer and coffee, very jagged coastline with beautiful golden sand beaches. Lots of boobs.

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Posted by Andrew and Lisa 04:35 Archived in France Comments (0)

Week 5: Heading East to the continent

The week started with a trip to Kent to stay with Andy. We were told we were going to stay for a night or two with his auntie and uncle....forgot to mention that the house was a country manor, which they only live in during the weekends. So after a couple of dicey moments with the alarm system, and feeling like we might be done for breaking and entering, we played ladies and gentlemen in the countryside for a few days.
We had planned to travel early in the week to France, but after too much procrastination and a muck up with booking the ferry, we caught the midnight crossing to Calais from Dover on Thursday night. Saw some white cliffs in Dover on the way, but we won't be going out of our way to spend much time there again.
Friday was a long day. We pulled up to an Aire (France has heaps of free stopover sites for campervans all over the place, and we've been making the most of them) and caught a few hours kip before getting on the road. The French coastline is pretty spectacular, but one of our first stops was in the Somme valley. Andy tricked us into visiting, said that he thought there was some big WWI memorial there, and one of the biggest battles was fought in the area. Which is true, but there is also a huge Australian WWI memorial. There was beautiful countryside, rolling hills and nice views so we won't hold the massive detour against him too much... We paid our respects to the Aussie diggers, and went to a French supermarket, picked up a flagon of wine (5L for 6 euros), bottle of port and we were off on our first real "camping sauvage" experience. We ended up hitting the jackpot, staying at a little camp in the woods next to an abandoned church. We whipped up a dinner on our new BBQ of the rabbit Andy and Andrew had shot in Kent.
The next day we went to an old City called Rouen. The central city was amazing, with really old buildings , and a stunning church. We went through the old church there, and met Saint Andre. It wasn't the greatest day so we spent most of the afternoon looking through the natural history museum. It was pretty amazing, with some weird things like kangaroo and dolphin embryos. Probably the highlight in Rouen though was eating freshly baked baguette and strolling through the markets to buy small oily fish. That night we stayed in a gorgeous small town not too far out of Rouen which is famous for cider making. We bought a few different bottles of cider, some from a pretty professional outfit and some from this lady on the side of the road who looked about Granny's age, they only cost 2.50 each and they outdid the fancy shop by a mile. Guess she'd been doing her thing for the past 80 years, can't argue with experience!
On Sunday, we moved on from WWI to WWII and went to storm some beaches at Normandy. The place has dozens of military museums, and a massive monument and graveyard commemorating the American soldiers who died during battle. It was a pretty sobering day. We've been watching Band of Brothers while we go, seems a lot more relevant when you've been standing in the places that day. Camp that night was in a place called Les Roches, with beautiful views over a valley. So far, no payment for accommodation on the continent, and some pretty amazing camping spots.....

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Posted by Andrew and Lisa 04:18 Archived in France Comments (0)

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