Wednesday 29th November 2017
We left our FREE Aire GPS n41.89861 w 008.84667 including electrical hook up but we took it leisurely, making the most of the electricity and said goodbye to our German Neighbours, a young couple with two very young children. They are heading off to Morocco in January in a bright green Leland DAF ex army communications truck and were leaving for the Portugal border today and they are not returning home until April.
After they left we had a coffee, filled the water, emptied the waste and loo and sedately made our way to Santiago. After about 20 mins we were being held up by really slow moving traffic only to find that the culprit was a bright green ex-army lorry doing a maximum of 40 mph on the flat or downhill and even slower going uphill. Long lorries were taking risks on bends in order to get past it but as my co driver was in the car behind and sitting on the kerb side of the road unable to see if it was clear to overtake, I had no alternative than to wait for a duel carriageway leaving enough space in front of me for any suicidal lorry drivers to get in if needed. Talk about a leisurely drive to Morocco, at a max of 40 mph all the way I would be surprised if they made it to Gibraltar for April not alone Morocco and then the fatherland. I do however admire their spirit of adventure and bravado, I would never had been brave enough at their age with two small children.. Good on them! They did however finally pull over to allow the queue to pass. So we find ourselves at another free Aire GPS n42.84512 w008.58079 and although it’s is essentially just a car park it has waste water and W.C disposal and is only 6k from the centre of Santiago.
Thursday 30th November 2017
Typical, the day when there were bound to be photo opportunities a plenty the camera ran out of battery and as we have no electric hook up there was no way to charge it. We set off to finish our “pilgrimage” to Santiago and like the cheaters we are, we once again continued the miles by motorised transport. (I am sure that they would have used a car in the Middle Ages if they had them. No one walks 1,000 miles if they have a car do they!) Many ‘proper’ pilgrims were completing their marathon hike from wherever they started and there was a festival feel in the air with music coming from all corners of the old city. As we entered the main square with the huge Cathedral at one end of it we were a little disappointed. Much of the front (the west facade) was draped with sheeting around scaffolding. A major restoration project was under way. Now IF i had just walked 1,000 miles to get here I would have been really pissed off about that, but as I had only walked a few hundred yards from the car park I took the disappointment gracefully. Pilgrims are supposed to crawl the last 30 yards on hands and knees across the square to the main entrance in an act of penance but we didn’t see much of that going on. Perhaps it was because it was closed and the only way into the cathedral was through the east door. There was a real sense of camaraderie amongst those who had completed the walk from all corners of the globe.
The centre was a lovely mix of ancient buildings, narrow streets with small individual shops each with is own specialty to sell, bars, tavernas, restaurants and hotels but all in the original buildings and most with arched walkways. A few squares had fountains and the low sun glistened through the let’s of water. Most had its ample share of beggars, something that we see a lot of in Spain incidentally, but these seemed to have physical illnesses, limps, bandaged parts of the body, puss filled swollen legs, a shortage of limbs and a good use of crutches etc. Perhaps they feel the Christian goodness that this area should have in abundance will spill over into their begging bowls, perhaps it already has and that’s why they stay. We gave to a few but if we gave to all we would be joining them before to long.
We had Molly with us so we couldn’t go into the Cathedral together. Angie sat outside while I went in. The 12pm mass was underway and sung incarnations echoed through the cloisters. Tourists were limited where they could go however I was surprised that this did not include climbing up behind the massive gold gilded alter or going into the crypt where the relics of St James and two disciples are said to be buried.
We returned later when there was no service going on. Angie went in first and then I followed as I was not able to see the golden Alter the first time round. Once again renovation work was underway so the whole alter was not visible and the top half was draped in dust sheets to save the lower half from the detritus created by the work above.
For one reason or another this destination was always one of the “had to happen” destinations and it has not let us down. Santiago de Compostela truly is a great place to visit.
On returning to the Aire we decided that we would have a longer drive tomorrow and have found a campsite near Braga where we can top up the battery which doesn’t seem to be holding its charge for more than 48 hours. We hope to stop en-route at Tui a pretty border town in Spain before entering Portugal. Apparently the Portuguese town Valenca on the other side of the Rio Minho is equally if not more interesting as it’s a hill topped double walled fortress town.
Friday 1st December 2017
A drizzly start to the day and it was cold to the bone too. Due to the weather we decided to just go straight to Braga and not stop en route. The Aire that we had been staying on was noisy. The first morning we were woken by hoards of teenagers walking past the van to their school. The second night, noisy Spanish voices woke us at 2am and loud conversations were happening behind the van, at 2.30 am they must have run out of things to talk loudly about, doors slammed and a car pulled away. Peace at last – well that was until 3.45am at least. This is the time that the Spanish dustbin lorries empty the bins in this particular car park. At 7am the cars started turning up for school and then at 8.30am the kids arrived again. We were knackered! We need a good nights sleep and some electricity. The Spanish roads were as good as always and the entrance into Portugal uneventful.
Initially the Portuguese roads were good and the change was seamless except that the houses and roadside seemed much more cared for, plants grew in tendered green gardens and all the houses were white wash painted and loved, a far cry from the “that will do” attitude that seemed to prevail on the Spanish side. Initially Portugal felt more like southern France than Northern Spain despite it being only a few yards over the border. The roads however soon changed from Spanish quality to French rustic (actually Portuguese rustic) but it feels French with trees lining the roads and pretty restaurants dotting the roadside. The roads became bendy, potholed, pitted and started heading northwards into the sky. We pulled over to check that Margret was not taking us down a dead end road and after checking the map decided that all seemed ok albeit tight on occasions and to carry on regardless. The roads are slow and mountainous and it has made me think for the first time in all of our travels abroad that paying for the toll motorways may be a serious option.
We arrived at Braga an important town about 30 miles north of Porto. The route to our stop for the night was through a succession of cobbled streets that nearly shook Catori apart. We decided to stay in a campsite, for the first time since leaving the uk and are thinking of just taking the smart car into Porto tomorrow.
Saturday 2nd December 2017
A 30 mile drive in Sunny the smart car took us to Porto. We had no preconceived ideas of what it was going to be like apart from a friend of mine said she had spent a lovely afternoon on the waterfront overlooking the Port Houses on the other side of the river and there was an impressive bridge built by the designer of the Eiffel Tower.
The road into the centre quickly became tight, cobbled and steep and then before we knew it we were spewed out onto an enormous cobbled central plaza with impressive period buildings, water fountains, statues, cathedrals, tramways and people everywhere. I found a side road (it felt like it was a 30% 1 in 3 gradient) and found a little spot for our little car. We walked back down the road and couldn’t believe our luck as we were right in the midst of Porto central. We grabbed a map from the tourist centre and ignoring his suggestion that we may want to head out of town to look at the AC Porto football ground, (he obviously doesn’t know my contempt for anything to do with football) made our way to the bridge. The views were to die for. Picture postcard drop down gorgeous. As we walked over the top of the bridge looking down at the waterfront with a stomach clenching massive drop to the water below (certainly not for those with a fear of heights) and wondering how we were ever going to get down there, we noticed a gondola/ cable car and then when we reached the other side of the bridge we saw that below us on the same bridge was a return road back to the other side. Perfect – Gondola down, walk along the water beside the Port houses cross over the bridge lower down, walk on the other side, grab a drink and some food in the sun where music was playing buskers were busking and the obligatory man dressed as a statue sits totally stationary only moving when you put money in his box, followed by a walk back up to the huge plaza we saw on our way in and perhaps grab a few more sights and shots of the amazing streets with their ceramic tiled or brightly painted town houses with wrought iron balconies. I would be unacceptable to not also purchase a semi decent bottle of Port of course. And that’s what we did.
Well they say a picture says a thousand words and if that is true we have 123,000 words worth of photos but we have just added a small selection. A few words to finish though…. If you ever get the chance to go to Porto – DO IT – IT IS FAB-U-LOUS and so far a highlight of our trip.
We realised on the way back that without Sunny the smart car this city would have been out of bounds to any motorhome without using public transport to get to its heart.