When we woke up in Santiago de Compostela it was Friday and there was something very exciting happening for Denis… the latest version of the computer game Zelda was out. This may not mean a lot to you (or me) but to Denis this is gold. On top of that there was a shop called Game within walking distance of our car park home. So off we set at opening time to see if there would be a Zelda left for Denis.
I sat in the cafe reading an article about how to get more followers on Instagram (synopsis – stop trying!)) while he queued. Oh yes I forgot to mention, you have to queue to buy Zelda. While waiting he sent exciting updates by text.
Text 1. He met a woman who was queuing to collect for her son who had reserved the game. Tense moment as Denis realised he hadn’t reserved a game… Text 2. The woman had been given specific two hour window in which she could collect her game or loose it. More hopeful moment, maybe someone hadn’t picked up their game and he could buy it? Text 3. He was next… Text 4. A picture of Zelda in his hand. Phew.
And then we were on the road again. This time to the north coast of Spain and a town called Ribadeo. We were ready to spend a couple of days in a nice campsite. Unfortunately, when we got to Ribadeo, the campsite was closed.
You drive to these campsites without checking and expect them to be wide-open and we’re surprised when they’re not. Stuff happens, businesses close or someone gets sick or tired of working with the public. Who knows what happens.
Fortunately we happen to know a great supermarket car park in Ribadeo where we’re allowed to park overnight. It’s not very visually beautiful but very handy for buying groceries, coffee and drinking glass (going around a particularly challenging roundabout broke a glass) and we did all those things and next morning we were heading along the north coast to a different (and hopefully open) campsite in the town of Perlora.
It was open! In fact it had been open since 1968. It’s a gorgeous place. On the way we were not expecting gorgeous because we went through a very industrial area called Aviles on route but we arrived at the coast on this little peninsula of a campsite. There were showers and a little café next door. We were still on cereal rations so we didn’t need a restaurant.
Next day we were heading for the Pecos (steep and rocky mountainous range south east of Gijón) but again another campsite was closed so we ended up traveling on. That’s why I have a lot of road pictures.
We see a lot of these things we call viaductos… They are the scariest thing (to me) – a long bridge on the motorway over a deep valley. They are often higher than the tallest trees with only a little blue railing to keep me safe.
With all the food pictures yesterday I didn’t have space to share the peaceful park up about 20 minutes drive outside Pontevedra, called Poio. So here’s some calm for a May Monday morning…
While Denis worked I sat listening to the water and the birds and taking one picture after another. Plenty of Camino pilgrims passed and as I was wearing a small rucksack I looked like I belonged there too. Many wished me a Buenos días (good morning) or said Ola (hello) as they walked on.
It wasn’t until the afternoon I noticed all the stone blocks in the park had writing on them. I went around trying to read the inscriptions.
My favourite view is of the red tiled houses. I’m going to have a go at painting a version of it. From a distance it looks like the houses are all higgle-piggly but of course they’re not.
They’re organised in streets that we can’t see from this distance. People walk up and down those streets every day going to and from their homes.
Very, very grateful to this community for setting aside beautiful spaces like this for our use.
And then we were back in Vila Nova de Cerveira (you’ll be needing my map for this one…) for the night. Travelling the way we do means we often have problems challenges to work out. Our attitude when one of these challenges arises is key to getting through it without killing each other life changing consequences. So whenever we solve something like the lack of strong data we celebrate with a high five or an extra coffee or even a meal out.
We found (thank you google maps) a great tapas restaurant called Curt’isso in Vila Nova de Cerveira. Tapas is a Spanish thing and it means a small snack but they are so much more. They are usually small but small is a relative measure so you can end up very easily ordering too much. I suppose it’s like getting lots of starters instead of one big meal. They can be cold or hot, simple or exotic. I love it. It’s difficult but I always try to start with one and order a second if I’m still hungry. Denis does something else…
Anyway we decided to celebrate and go to Curt’isso and we were not disappointed. Every dish was different and my mouth is watering just thinking about them now. Denis was a little disappointed because he couldn’t finish… he ordered 4, hmmm.
Next day we head for Spain and the city of Pontevedra (see map below) and would you believe we have a problem again with data. So off we go along the inlet to what turns out to be a beautiful place called Poio. The data there was great and at the end of the day we returned to the city.
Unfortunately, there was a new problem when we arrived back – no space at the motorhome parking. Made worse by the fact that we had received a recommendation for a tapas place from a local and we had been imagining all day rushing off to dinner the moment we arrived back. But no… we had to drive on. And on. Two hours later we arrived at a car park in the Camino city of Santiago de Compostela! (Hello Helena!)
Fortunately for us the Spanish eat late. We were sitting down to our celebratory tapas dinner at 10pm. The following night we had breakfast cereal for dinner. Living the dream.
We arrived at the border town of Vila Nova de Cerveira and we thought this would be our last full day in Portugal. We were already missing the people and their natas and then we had to go to Spain for the day. Bear with me while I try to sound like I know what I’m talking about, there are technical reasons.
Ok so 4G and 5G data for mobile phones can do something interesting that the 2G and 3G can’t do and it’s especially useful at borders. They can decide in which direction or how strong they want to send their signal. So today we are in Portugal and we are accidentally getting Spanish data service. Unfortunately it’s just not very strong Spanish data.
That might be because they don’t want to be sending strong data across the border and away from their customers… But for some reason this data from Spain has meant the Portuguese data is gone. So… we have to move to Spain for Denis to work and take video calls.
We found a place about twenty minutes over the bridge and around the headland facing the Atlantic. We weren’t expecting much except better data which we got… but we also got amazing views! Plus, we’re parked beside a Camino path so we see pilgrims passing by. They have another 160km to walk to their destination of Santiago de Compostela.
We feel very lucky. We’ll be back in Vila Nova de Cerveira tonight and we’ll get our last Portuguese coffee in the morning but for now we are breathing in this amazing Atlantic air.
After Vila Chã we drove up the coast of Portugal. We were on our way to the last Portuguese town on our journey. Soon we would be crossing the border into Spain. But first, we visited a different town on the coast called, Esposende. We were stopping for a break and a coffee, I was not expecting to feel anything for this town and I definitely didn’t expect to be writing about it but here we are.
We followed the app’s directions to a parking spot and then got out to walk back to the centre of the town. Where Vila Chã was narrow streets, Esposende is wide open. Yes we saw narrow streets near the church but beside the water it was wide open. I don’t know if that was what made this place feel so good but I wanted to spend time taking pictures and walking along the water here. So I did.
I’ve been thinking about Future Me lately, that’s me in 10 or 20 years time. Specifically thinking about what she’d want me to be doing now so that she is healthy and content, way out there in the future. Walking along the water seems like one thing she’d want. Taking time to smell the seaweed might be another. Cutting down on the Portuguese nata’s is probably another…
Changing habits is not easy, especially the habits of a lifetime but spending a little time in this town made me realise that the less tangible things that make me feel good (like walking, smelling seaweed/flowers/fresh air, meditating, taking photos, writing) are actually magic things that can help me let go of things I think make me feel better. Things like pastries! Things like worry or guilt. (I do seem to think if I worry I can solve the problem I’m worrying about! I do, also, seem to think guilt is good for me and will make me stop procrastinating!)
Future me will one day look back at this post and I want her to be smiling to herself for the habit changes I made for her today.
After Porto, we needed some rest and relaxation and spent two nights in a small campsite in the town of Vila Chã. It’s right by the sea, well near enough to see the sea in the distance from the gate.
It’s a beautiful place, very simple, there’s no big supermarkets (although there is an outlet shopping centre 3km away) there’s no big shops, there’s very small cobbled streets and lots of tiny cafe/bar/restaurants. There’s also a boardwalk that runs along beside the sea.
We’ve been here before, I think it was 2019, when Denis’ laptop failed and we stayed here while we were waiting for it to be repaired. We waited a week, a long glorious week of me walking the boardwalks taking pictures and not much else. I saw the small fishing boats come in every morning. There’s a long tradition of fishing here and as we heard from Clara in Porto the Portuguese love eating fish so they have no trouble selling their catch.
This is a perfect place to come after the busy city and we needed to do the washing. Not exactly glamorous but I love to be able to hang the clothes on the line after washing and because of the warm weather they will actually dry. And it didn’t take very long until a washing machine full of clothes was dry. It’s funny how something like a load of washing can play on your mind because you have to plan to be at a washing machine (did I mention, there’s none in the motorhome?) so it’s a little bit more tricky.
There’s the tokens you need to buy and the instructions you need to read (different every time) and there’s the queuing if all the machines are full. Then you need to be in a campsite if you want to hang out your clothes and some campsites don’t have washing lines. We did recently pass a petrol station where there were washing machines outside and beside the washing machines were clothes lines! Yes! And a woman hanging up her sheets! I have never seen that before. Also maybe it could only happen in Portugal? Is it only me who thinks someone would steal your sheets? Maybe I think about theft too much…
On my way back from hanging out the washing I passed a barbecue set up outside someone’s tent, and there were three fish propped up on a small barbecue, cooking. I did not have the courage to stop and take a picture of the three fish. They smelled absolutely gorgeous and I don’t usually like fish but if someone had offered me just a little bit of that fish as I passed I would’ve taken the hand off them (in other words, I’d have said, Yes, please!)
Which is kind of strange so maybe I should just buy some fish and cook it on the barbecue. Or I should just learn how to cook fish on the barbecue. I think it’s the whole fish on Friday thing?
When I was a child we had to eat fish every Friday we couldn’t eat meat, well sometimes we would have a fried egg instead but it was mainly fish. Does anybody remember that? I think that put me off fish, except for anchovies, I love anchovies on pizza. I’m hungry now… possibly even hungry enough to eat some fish.
We were off and the first thing we learned was Clara knows Ireland! She once visited her brother who works in Dublin. Both she and he love Dublin. I was chatting with a friend on emails about how we Irish always think we’re going to meet a neighbour (or cousin or someone who knows someone) who just happens to be in the same county on holidays at the same time as us… And here we were in almost that situation… no, not exactly but you know we are going to look up her brother.
Our tour was off to a great start, we were now discussing how very alike the Irish and Portuguese are, something I have believed for a while. We’re very friendly, curious, interested, maybe even a bit nosey? We’re a bit, sure it’ll be grand, no rush, have another cup of tea – the Portuguese love tea too. But Clara insisted we really had to get on with the tour so we did. First stop was an old fashioned grocery store. It was a small exquisitely cared for space. There was fruit, nuts, sweets, wine, port, tins of sardines and chocolate. All Portuguese products.
Clara explained that these shops have had approaches from big food companies interested in buying their property in order to put in a fast food (or other) outlet. We felt very grateful that this hadn’t happened and we could stand in a place that had served generations in Porto. But I can imagine these shops and others like them in cities all over the world won’t be here forever, especially if we’re not buying from them, supporting them.
Then we were off to the Bolhão market. This farmers and producers market has been closed for renovations for three years but now it’s back in business and it’s busy. Everyone seems very happy to be back. The market building itself is open to the air but the market stalls are covered. This makes for a very pleasant visit, no fishy smells and protection if it rains. One thing we noticed was plenty of people sitting around eating and soaking up the atmosphere.
This is the market where I wanted to ask lots of questions about how I should behave in general at markets. Like, Can I take pictures? How will I cook unfamiliar foods? Will they gut the fish? The big answer is, Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! That’s actually the answer to most of my questions about behaviour… but maybe that’s not just me. The gist of what Clara said was, Just open your heart, trust your voice and ask. Most people will speak English or the other shoppers will help. And yes, it’s ok to take pictures. The stall holders are so passionate about their produce that they are happy to help in ways that allow you to support them. They won’t be here either if we don’t buy from them, support them.
Minerva have been canning sardines (and other fish) in a Portugal since 1942. I had to admit I thought all the tins of sardines were just for decoration. Well, they are very attractive, but no, they are also for eating. We tasted tuna in olive oil and it was very good. The lady who was giving the tasting loved her product and that made the visit very enjoyable. Clara’s other job is in advertising or maybe it was marketing… anyway, we had a very interesting conversation about packaging. Packaging helps us buy and support producers. I love Minerva’s packaging.
We also visited the Portuguese chocolate shop, Casa do Chocolate, where I had a caramel chocolate (yum!) and the Pastel de Nata bakery where I had another lovely nata… cannot get enough of the natas.
What do you get when you cross a chemist with a painter? Meia Dúzia! Here we tasted the food created by a chemist who was a painter in his spare time. His creation looks like paint. This tasting was the most fun and really appealed to me because I never feel creative when it’s time to make dinner but… ingredients that look like I’m about to play with paint? I can enjoy that! You are probably familiar with a crushed garlic product that you get in a plastic tube? Well this is much more interesting. There were over 30 different tubes of things like olive paste or chocolate orange or fig. We tasted most of them! There wasn’t one I didn’t like. And all made with Portuguese produce.
Our last visit was to a tiny restaurant where we chatted about writing, poets in Portugal, history including the dictatorship that lasted for 50 years in Portugal and ended in 1974, when the dictator died, followed by a peaceful revolution. And while we chatted we ate threes different types of ham, three different types of bread and olive oil. And then it was all over. We were sad to say goodbye to Clara, she had made our visit to Porto so enjoyable and we won’t forget her… and we’ll definitely be looking up her brother.
Clara pointed us in the direction of São Bento and we rambled down the steep hill. We were tired and ready for bed but it was only 3.30pm and we had a train journey to take first.
At the station we saw a photo exhibition with photos from journalists taken in 1974 on the day of the peaceful revolution. One showed two soldiers with rifles and in the muzzle of each gun was a carnation. Clara had told us earlier that the people wanted democracy and the army were fed up fighting with their own so when someone put flowers in their guns, they didn’t stop them. Freedom Day is celebrated on the 25 of April each year.
The train driver got off the train again on the way home but this time we knew what to do – wait, soon you will be going in a different direction. We loved our tour with Clara in Porto. I know what to do in the markets and on the trains and I know flowers can be powerful.
As I was saying yesterday we were parked right beside the train station. We had our tickets and we were ready to go so we got up early-ish and got the 9:18am train. But not before taking some pictures of the old station. (beautiful blue tiles) Then off we went delighted with ourselves. Very soon we realized we were sitting on the wrong side of the train… every seat on the left side going towards Porto was full, we were sitting on the right side. That’s the side the sun was pouring in… we were soon roasted, but grand.
Within an hour we had arrived in Porto at a station called Campanhã and then the train driver got out – a bit disconcerting. We were supposed to be going to Saõ Bento. You know how it is, you’re watching everybody else wondering what they are going to do? Asking yourself, “is this really the last stop?” And then the train started up again and we were going backwards… into Porto.
We saw some beautiful views over the river including the bridges but I wasn’t able to take pictures because like I said, we were sitting on the wrong side of the train. But, it was spectacular. If you ever go to Porto get on one of the trains that go over the river, any of the trains and any of the bridges. Also there’s a walking bridge that has a metro line running on it too. Walk on that one too. I’ll see if I can find the name of the bridge and the metro line. (It’s the Don Luis I Bridge Metro Yellow or D line.) There are amazing views of Porto from that bridge.
Now we were in the train station at Saõ Bento in Porto and we had until 12.30pm to wait for our tour. We had decided not to have breakfast or coffee, we wouldn’t eat anything until the tour because it’s a food tour, there will be food… oh I nearly forgot Saõ Bento station is impressive and it’s worth taking a moment to look at the blue tiles covering the walls of the big hall at the entrance. Lots of people are doing the same thing – just standing there taking pictures. Then we walk out of the station and see the most people we’ve seen in one place for years! Literally. The streets are jampacked… we look at each other and decide to change our minds about the no coffee and sit at the first free seat in a cafe across the road from the station.
Denis went in to order coffee and a nata while I kept myself busy watching dodgy looking characters. There would be no leaving my bag, nonchalantly on a chair here. To be honest I saw nothing out of the ordinary but my nervous system was indeed on full alert. Probably didn’t need the coffee then… hmmm.
After coffee, we headed off to Trinidad station (to meet our guide) just walking the streets of Porto is so nice and was very comfortable. Not every part of the center was as busy as the station and it was a beautiful day, not too hot in the shade with a nice breeze. We spent time in a book/stationery shop and I got a book of poems from the Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa and Denis bought a phone cover.
It was time to meet our guide, Clara, she had sent me a WhatsApp earlier and we were to meet up outside a cafe near the Trindade train station. We were supposed be waiting outside the café but it was hot so we were waiting in the shade and we could see the cafe in the distance. It wasn’t long before I realised that she may also be waiting in the shade somewhere and we really better go stand outside the cafe… in the hot sun.
Almost immediately I saw someone who couldbe our guide, I went up to her and said, “are you Clara?” No it wasn’t Clara, the clues were, her lack of response and the fact that she was vaping. Fortunately, at that very moment, a friendly voice said, “hi, I’m Clara, are you waiting for a Clara?” Clara had a huge smile and shook hands confidently and I thought, yes, I picked the right tour. The power of first impressions.
Remember when we were in Vila Nova de Milifontes? And I got the the idea for some kind of tour that would help me navigate food markets. Well, there were hundreds of food related tours you can go on in Porto and there are thousands of reviews. A lot of information to wade through and choose. So I chose the one that felt right… having no idea if this tour would do the trick but trusting it would be grand.
So here we are with Clara and she sets off at a quick pace with the two of us tagging along. You know how it is when you’re in a new place and every junction needs to be paused at just in case you’re going the wrong way? And more importantly you need to look both ways twice because you’ve forgotten again which way the traffic flows? Well, Clara always knew where she was going and was confidently walking across junctions. And I was happily trusting her with my life. (Yes, I did secretly look both ways, ready to grab her if she missed something speeding in her direction, did I mention my on full alert nervous system?)
On Wednesday the weather got even hotter and the pressure rose higher as we drove north towards Porto. We didn’t have a place to stay in Porto and there was a possibility we wouldn’t be able to visit this time which was disappointing because it is such a beautiful place. By the time we arrived in Aveiro neither of us were thinking straight, we had headaches and were tired. There are only six or seven spaces at the official motorhome parking in Aveiro, although later we realised there’s an overflow parking about a hundred meters away. At the time we weren’t sure what we would do if it was full.
And it was full when we drove in. Now what? We drove around once looked longing at each full space and then noticed a motorhome at the far end was driving out… so we drove in feeling very happy. And then the rain came. Never before have we been as excited about rain and parking. The rain was glorious, the air pressure returned to normal, the heat broke and we got a parking space. On top of that, it was free. Best day ever!
We only adventured out to the supermarket, less than 3 minutes walk way, for the rest of that day. Next morning we went to look at Averio. In the first century its then name translated as, “a gathering place or preserve of birds and of great salt”. Now it’s sometimes called, the Venice of Portugal. Averio is a university town with a young, international population and very vibrant. There are beautiful art nouveau buildings, some in great condition, some not so great. And there’s a canal.
The reason it got the Venice name was because of the canal running through the city. Boats, not unlike Gondolas, previously used to transport seaweed now give tourist trips up and down the canal. We walked twenty minutes from our parking to the first bridge we came to which turned out to be the Laços de Amizade. This is the bridge of friendship where friends or lovers write a message on a ribbon (prettier than padlocks) and tie it to the bridge. We sat to have a coffee and watched people write messages and tie their ribbons to the bridge. There’s a booth beside the bridge were you can buy ribbons.
It was late into this second day that we realised we were parked beside the train station where we could get a train to Porto! If we could only work out how to purchase tickets and where to go to get on the train we’d be off to Porto the next day. It turned out to be very easy. The ticket office person spoke great English and we bought our tickets to São Bento train staton, Porto, for Friday. Fifteen euros return, two adults on a one hour each way journey – a bargain.
Aveiro had provided everything we needed, thank you Aveiro!