Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Health and safety be damned!

Day 65 - 26.06.12 Obidos and Peniche

Thankfully we awoke to a much clearer morning and so got on the road to Obidos.  We found a car park just for campers that was free between 9 and 5 and had services too.  Obidos is a small city surrounded by huge rampart walls and shadowed by a large castle on a hill.  We clamoured up the steep steps onto the turreted walls and enjoyed the sometimes hair-raising walk high above the town.  There is no handrail to hold onto and the stones can be quite slippery after years of wear and tear, Portugal doesn't much care for health and safety regulations!  Nevertheless it was very nice to get up high and enjoy a slight breeze as its sweltering today!  

The views all around were fantastic, Obidos looks very cute from above with its medieval cobbled streets and red tiled roofs.  The main parts of the castle have unfortunately been turned into a hotel.  It has been done quite tastefully but it’s still a shame.  They were also setting up for a Medieval Fair whilst we were there which looked really good, its pity we missed it but it doesn’t start until July.  It’s really nice how Obidos has managed to incorporate tourism without losing too much of its traditional charm. 

After stocking up at a supermarket on the edge of Obidos we headed west to Peniche, a huge peninsular.  It’s certainly good to get a sea breeze on such a hot day.  We set off to explore the area, walking along the cliffs, which look like a rocky lunar landscape.  Huge piles of rocks teeter on the edge of collapsing into the sea below and the ground is dry and cracked.   Lots of sea birds nest along the coast, we saw some cormorants and a seagull with its chicks.  After heading back to the van we watched the sun set, hidden behind a band of red cloud and settled in for the night.  Oh and we finished watching Game of Thrones so I'll shut up about it now!

Smoke on the water

Day 64 - 25.06.12 San Martinho do Porto

We had intended to leave San Martinho early to head off to our next stop.  Unfortunately we woke up to a thick fog and really poor visibility.  By the time it had cleared up, it was a little late to get going to our two planned stops for the day since we knew we couldn’t stay overnight at the first.

 Instead we enjoyed a walk along the beach to town, headed back to the supermarket for more food and made use of the showers again. And we might have watched more Game of Thrones (looks shifty).  Not a lot to tell you really I’m afraid.  We’re looking forward to heading off to Obidos tomorrow but it has been a lovely stay by the sea in this beautiful setting.

English football is like English weather. Crap.

Day 63 24.06.12 Sao Martinho do Porto
On our second day in Sao Martinho we headed into the main town, following the huge curve of sand around the bay.  There was a market being held, with lots of stalls along the route.  There were a few interesting bits and bobs for sale and Chris managed to haggle himself a war medal for a low price to sell on when we’re back visiting Blighty. 

The town itself has little to see, it’s very much just a beach resort with a few bars and some shops selling swimwear, buckets and spades etc.  There are a lot of English holidaymakers around and it’s nice to hear voices we understand!

We followed signs to a large supermarket on the edge of town to pick up a few bits to eat and then headed back to the van.   After dinner and some more Game of Thrones we went back into town to find a bar to watch the football.  We found a nice place called Martinhos run by a Brummy guy and full of English holidaymakers awaiting kick-off.  We enjoyed a couple of beers and hoped for a win (not least because the Brummy guy had offered everyone a free drink if England won) but no joy and home we headed to bed.

Horse shoe bay

Day 62 23.06.12 Sao Martinho do Porto
Sao Martinho do Porto bay, Portugal
We left Alcobaca at around lunch-time to head back to the coast.  Our spot in Sao Martinho do Porto is an amazing free car park overlooking the town’s spectacular bay.  The bay sweeps around in a huge horse shoe shape with white sands all around.  The shape of the bay keeps it well protected, making the water calm and a tropical looking turquoise colour.

Sao Martinho do Porto ruins, PortugalAfter lunch we took a walk down to the closest part of the beach and had a look around some ruins by the shore.  I’m not sure what they used to be but they were fun to explore.  The beach here and indeed the views all around are really very beautiful. 

On our way back to the van we found a toilet block with indoor showers (jackpot!).  After heading back to the van to grab shower stuffs we headed over.  After getting washed and having dinner I must admit we settled down to a massive Game of Thrones fest.  Seriously it’s addictive!  

A game of thrones

Day 61 22.06.12 Alcobaca

Alcobaca city scape
Sarcophagus in Alcobaca monastery Tomb in Alcobaca monastery We decided to stay a second day in Alcobaca as it’s such a nice place to be.  We stocked up on food at one of the many nearby supermarkets in the morning before heading home for lunch.  We also enjoyed the lovely park in town and sat for a while by the fountains.  Alcobaca is a stunningly green city surrounded by hills covered in dark green pines.  The views from all around really are gorgeous. 

Views in Alcobaca Portugal
 Most of the rest of the day was spent ambling around the quiet streets and enjoying the sights.  It’s a very laid-back, lazy place to be, so much so you can’t help but sit and watch the world go by whilst you’re here.  In the evening we made the most of the internet and started watching Game Of Thrones, which was rapidly to become our new obsession!  I’ve included a number of pictures of Alcobaca’s famous monastery in today’s post as I ran out of space in the last one!   The monastery was really impressive, particularly the stone-work on the tombs.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Majestic Monasteries

Day 60 21.06.12 Batalha and Alcobaca

We got on the road mid-morning to head for Batalha.  Only a short 20 minute drive away Batalha is the home to a magnificent monastery.  We parked up nearby in and (shock horror) had to pay for parking!  Don’t worry though it was only 40 cents for two hours! 

Batalha monastery, Portugal

Tombs in Batalha monastery, Portugal
Monastery in Batalha, PortugalThe monastery certainly lived up to expectations and was utterly breath-taking.  The statue outside was ginormous and some of the detailing on the building utterly brilliant.  Entry into the main part of the monastery was free and the architecture surprisingly functional and stern-looking.  This harsh setting with very at odds with the light coming through the stained glass windows casting bright coloured lights all over the floor like a cheesy disco! 

Stained glass windows in Batalha monastery in Portugal
The tomb room off the main centre was awe-inspiring.  We had been in there for about two minutes before I realised I was wandering around with my mouth open I was that impressed!  Sadly my pictures don’t really do the sheer scale of the room much justice but hopefully you can see how small the people look in the setting and get an idea of its magnitude! 

The stone work on the tombs was wonderfully intricate and the detailed domed ceiling was an amazing sight.  Again the stunning windows cast colourful lights all over the otherwise sombre room.  It truly was a phenomenal place that I won’t forget any time soon!    

Domed ceiling in Batalha monastery Portugal

Batalha monastery Portugal

We decided against paying to look around the rest of the place as our next stop for the day was another monastery over in Alcobaca.  Lovely as Batalha was, there isn’t a lot else there aside from the cathedral and since the parking wasn’t free we’d found somewhere else to spend the night.

Alcobaca monastery, Portugal
Alcobaca was another half hour drive south.  The large car park we’d planned to stay in turned out to be on a huge slope (not ideal for sleeping) so we parked up beside a nearby school in a much flatter spot!  The views on the way into Alcobaca and indeed from the town itself are wonderful.  It’s so green around here surrounded by huge sweeping hills covered in pine forests.  The monastery isn’t the same scale as Batalha but is still mightily impressive.  The tombs inside again have some incredible detailing and some of the architecture inside in superb (more pictures from Batalha tomorrow as I’ve kind of filled this post up already!)  After the monastery we ventured up a hill on the far side of town to see some castle ruins and make the most of the fantastic views over the town.  Alcobaca is a really laid back place, that is better maintained than most of the Portugal we’ve seen so far and it’s setting is just amazing.  

Launderette how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Day 59 20.06.12 Leiria
We were up and about early as the lady in the tourist info office had advised us of a launderette on the other side of town.  Having learnt from the mistakes of the last tourist office lady who directed us to a non-existent launderette, we decided to drive over.  Negotiating Leiria’s absurd one way system was quite a challenge but we got there in the end and sure enough it was a non-fictional launderette, hurrah!  We managed to fill up 4 washing machines of clothes and bedding.  I can’t explain how excited I am to have clean bedding and fresh towels again!

The wealth of washing took us a long time so instead of heading off to our next destination we got back in the crazy one way system and back to our car park.  We spent a bit of time in the van after that, re-arranging the damp clothes to dry them off in the hot sun.  We then headed off to a church on a hill on the other side of town to enjoy the views over the town, including of the awesome castle on the opposite hill.

There was a cute park on the way over where we spotted loads of fresh water shrimps, aren’t they cute?!  On the way back to the van we spotted a cheap shoe shop and both managed to pick up new trainers for a bargainous 15 euros each!  My trainers are literally falling apart, so its perfect timing.  On getting home Chris rustled up a yummy bolognese dinner and then we settled down to watch a  film in our freshly cleaned bed, bliss!  Leiria is a great little place, full of vivid colours and fantastic views.  We’ve very much enjoyed our couple of days here, particularly our time looking around the castle.  I’m really pleased we made the detour inland, it’s really been worth the trip.  

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Castles in the sky

Day 58 - 19.06.12 - Leiria

Having found the location of a nearby garage online we headed over there first thing.  We couldn’t find the garage we were looking for but there were plenty around and a friendly Portuguese father and son team were happy to help us out.  They changed the oil, checked the brakes (they’re fine, phew) and changed our burnt out bit of fuse box for a shiny new one.  We were pleased with the work (although the price could’ve been cheaper!) and got back on the road for Leiria.

Castelo Leiria Portugal
Leiria Castle, PortugalLeiria is a colourful and pretty town dominated by a huge castle on a wooded hill in the centre.  We went to look around for a bargain 2.10 euros each and really enjoyed it.  The highlight was a long balcony with stunning arches and the most amazing view over the town.  It really took your breath away.  We got to climb up the main tower too which housed a small museum with interesting bits of weaponry and armour.  From the top, the views all around were really impressive.

There aren’t many other major things to see in Leiria but it’s a pleasant place with a handful of attractive buildings and some incredibly vivid flowers!  There’s a really nice feeling to Leiria and its better maintained than a lot of the places we’ve been so far.

In the evening we discovered that the big TV screen by where we’d parked was showing the England match so we sat down to watch, albeit quietly as we were surrounded by Ukraine fans! 

Leiria, Portugal

Relax to the max

Day 57 - 18.06.12 - Pedrogao

Our day in Pedrogao was a very quiet one.  We found an open wifi connection and so moved the van closer to it and away from the other campers, who as you can see from the photo weren’t paying much attention to the ‘No parking for campers’ sign! 

We had a look around town for a mechanics garage to have a look at the burnt out fuse but no joy.  There’s not a lot in Pedrogao aside from a handful of VERY overpriced shops (1 euro for a pack of crisps?!) and some cafes.  The long stretch of beach is beautiful though.

We made the most of the facilities, filled the van up with water and caught up on all things internet.  We chatted with family via skype and watched the sunset.  An enjoyably relaxing day.

Pedrogao Portugal sunset

Monday, 18 June 2012

Fire in the glovebox

Day 56 - 17.06.12 Figueira da Foz

After saying goodbye to our Lincolnshire neighbours we got on the road to Figueira da Foz around 40 minutes away.  Unfortunately our planned parking spot, a huge free car park on the edge of town, had been taken over by a travelling fairground!  We spotted a group of Portuguese campers on a car park supposedly only for port related parking and headed over there.  Thankfully being Sunday, parking in these kinds of spots tends to be ok but we weren’t overly happy with it.

Figueira da Foz beach, PortugalWe found the nearest supermarket to stock up and then headed back for lunch.  Unlike Spain, a lot of Portuguese shops are open on Sundays.  In fact, it’s not unusual for the big out of town supermarkets and shopping centres to be open from 10am until 10pm.

The beach here is absolutely ginormous.  It would take a good five minutes to walk all the way across the sand to reach the sea! 

Figueira da Foz, Portugal
Figueira da FozThere are very few sights here otherwise and most of the nicer buildings are in desperate need of a spruce up.  The HUGE park in the centre of town is another disappointment.  It has the potential to be an amazing place but the grass is overgrown, there’s graffiti everywhere and you have to tread carefully to avoid all the dog poo! We’re both feeling disappointed with this place.  There are nice enough features here and there but we both dislike it for reasons we can’t quite but our fingers on.  Perhaps it’s just because we’re worried about the van, either way we decide to move on.

Our Lincolnshire neighbours had recommended a place called Pedrogao so we made for there.  The roads were very quiet and we made good time.  Unfortunately the last five minutes of the drive were pretty eventful as some puffs of smoke came out of the glovebox.  Thankfully it was just the fuse for the fog lights but we'll obviously have to get ourselves to a garage sharpish to figure out what caused it.

Everybody needs good neighbours.

Day 55 - 16.06.12 Praia da Mira

We got on the road mid-morning and headed to Praia de Mira, our next spot along the coast.  Our parking spot was a large scrap of land beside a campsite.  Usually we’d think it’s a bit too cheeky to free camp beside a paid campsite but there were at least 10 other campers there! 

The spot was beside the beach with fine white sand as far as the eye could see and blissfully quiet too.  We parked up (unintentionally) next to the only non-French camper there, which turned out to be owned by a friendly Lincolnshire couple who came over to say hi.  We chatted for a while before heading into town. 

The walk into town was alongside a huge, beautiful lagoon.  It was a wonderfully blue and still body of water.  The centre itself was however a ghost town.  A handful of over-priced mini-markets and some quiet bars were about the extent of it.  The beach at this end was busier with the fishermen sorting out their nets for the day’s sardine catch.  

After a while we headed back, watched the sunset and then spent the rest of the evening chatting with our very hospitable neighbours.  We shared a few drinks and talked about our experiences so far.  They’ve been travelling for periods of a couple of months at a time for 32 years so had plenty of stories and useful experience to pass on!

Snap happy

 Day 54 - 15.06.12 - Aveiro

Art Nouveau museum Aveiro, Portugal
In the morning of our second day in Aveiro we took the laptop to town to update the blog.  After returning for lunch we went back in to see the bits of town we’d missed on the previous day.  The Art Nouveau museum was a bit of a let-down inside.  The facade of the building is superb but there wasn’t a lot to see inside.  I’m not sure whether or not we were supposed to pay to get in but we trailed around after a group of people visiting and nobody bothered us!

Banco de Portugal, AveiroAs we ventured around the rest of town we came across yet more amazing buildings and lovely sights, so much so it was a tough call picking the pictures to include on the blog!  I got a little snap happy but the architecture was just fantastic and it’s such a bright, colourful city.

Again though even on one of the main streets in town we came across some fantastic buildings falling to pieces, including one Art Deco apartment block with marble tiling inside that we could see through the smashed front doors.  Such a shame.  It’s really sad to see these amazing and unique buildings in such disrepair and then find builders throwing up blocks of anonymous looking flats everywhere there is spare land.

Canal boats, Aveiro Portugal

Aveiro has however been a lovely place to visit.  The city has a wonderfully relaxed feel to it and is packed full of some of the most beautiful Art Nouveau architecture you could wish for.