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.