Our first stopover back in Spain and a lovely little free camperstop with water and sewage on the riverside. There are about 15 other campervans here so it’s a busy location. A brief walk around the town and a quick shimmy up the walls of the Alcázar (moorish castle) for a sunset photo.
Next morning and it’s a proper tour of the Alcázar and then back to the van for a spot of lunch and we start off for Merida – were going Roman again!
Elvas was a great find for a quick overnight – it has a wonderful aqueduct and probably one of the best forts we have ever visited. The overnight was at a supermarket – really helpful that we get sewage, fresh and grey disposal for zilch!
We wandered around the town end then drove over to the fort which was a couple of km outside the town. A marvelous day exploring the fort and a great way to finish off our trip to Portugal. We read about the many conflicts between Spain and Portugal from the Portuguese perspective before heading 10km and into spain and Badajoz for the Spanish perspective!
We arrive late afternoon at Vila Viçosa. We have two possible stopovers – one is at the fire station for a couple of euros a night, but there are no other campers here and we generally like safety in numbers so we move further into town to a large car-park where there are two or three other campers and our app tells us that we can stop for free – perfect.
We are here to see the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ducal_Palace_of_Vila_Vicosa) and a quick wander into town informs us that it’s shut until the Tuesday PM. The rest of Monday we do a lap of the town including a lap of the castle walls. Like other walled towns and castles, the Portuguese basically say here are the walls – help yourself. Don’t fall off! The walls are sheer on the inside, about 4 feet wide and drop in some places thirty feet. These walls seem to be trodden rarely (which is odd because they are wonderful) because they are also mossy. We make our way around the castle walls which includes a lap of the cemetery.
The next day we visit the Palace but it’s a boring blog post because we are not allowed to take photos inside the Palace! The tour is guided and it’s a nice small group.
After the Palace, it’s towards Elvas, which is the last planned stop in Portugal…
We left Lisbon around midday and it felt odd to be moving again after more than two weeks in one place. We knew we wanted to cross one of Lisbon’s amazing bridges on the trip east. The choices are the Ponte Vasco De Gama bridge (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasco_da_Gama_Bridge) or the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/25_de_Abril_Bridge). Both are great bridges. While 25 Abril is in the middle of town and it’s a high bridge it’s only 2km long. The Vasco da Gama bridge is at the east of the town but is a whopping 12km long. As we had visited the top of the Ponte 25 de Abril during our stay we went for the Vasco de Gama. Both bridges have a toll, but as it’s only charged Northbound, it didn’t interfere with our ‘no tolls’ policy! The bridge was great but it was really windy and made us glad that we didn’t cross the much higher bridge in town.
About 80 km later and we are at Evora (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89vora), a walled city with a few notable landmarks and the capital of the region. The city walls are almost intact and there is an aqueduct and citadel on the outskirts. But the reason this got onto our map is the somewhat macabre Capela dos Ossos (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capela_dos_Ossos). Maybe you can guess, but this is a small chapel covered in human bones. Built in the 16th century by a Franciscan monk, there are estimated to be the skulls and bones of around 5000 people embedded in the walls – collected form the local cemeteries. The sign at the entrance reads “We bones that here are, for yours await”. Obviously it reminds us of the catacombs in Paris.
We took a day out do do about three weeks washing and watch the last GP of the season, and get rained on.
On the 26th, a final lap of the town in the morning including the cemetery on the outskirts of town. One thing we notice again having spotted this in Lisbon is that many of the crypts have glass doors and we find it unusual to see the coffins sitting neatly on shelves in the crypts. At least the crypts here are all well looked after – in Lisbon, many of the older crypts have broken glass or rusted doors and you can imagine the sights within.
Bread and cheese for lunch an an early afternoon start and continuing the journey East.
So finally we arrive at Lisboa. It was a shaky start: we checked in at the campsite and then decided to stock up on groceries before actually parking up in our spot. The trip to the local Jumbo hypermarket was a bloody nightmare. Issues with satnav and then when we arrived, discovering *almost* as we drove in that it was a multi-story carpark and was not great for the 3.4 meter tall mothership. But we got there in the end – there was a hairy route to some oversized parking. It took the rest of the day to calm down. We got a good discount at the campsite as we are staying for two whole weeks!
First impressions of the campsite are: ‘Meh’. It’s the only campsite anywhere near town – so much so that it appears on the tourist maps. This means that it’s quite expensive and it has mixed reviews.
We are well out of season, but there is not really an out of season price. The list price is about 30€ per night but our two week booking brings that down to about 20€ – still more than we have paid elsewhere, but we are close to the city.
Facilities are average, but a hot and *long* shower helps us relax. Bangers and mash in the van also helps restore us too! And it’s planning for the next few days or trips around Lisbon.
It’s out first time with electric hookup for simply ages and it’s odd to have on-demand hot water in the mothership. When we are gas powered, the water only goes on when we know we need it for washing up, showering etc. We do also have the option to make hot water from the engine when we are driving but we nearly always forget to turn it on before we set out. Anyway we have electric so it’s time to get some batteries charged and get the water hot.
There is very heavy rain at night and we are quickly reminded about one of the downsides of ‘van life: when it rains on a campervan/motorhome etc – there is a LOT OF NOISE!
On the first full day we walked up to the local train station and grabbed tickets to the metro – we wanted to get refillable metro tickets as a backstop. Then into the town proper and to the main tourist information to buy our ‘Lisbon explorer’ cards – these last three days and cover many tourist activities such as museums and also the trains, metro, trams, busses and ferries – which makes things painless.
The walk to the train station was long and not pleasant so we next explored the bus network. The bus network in Lisbon was actually very painful – We arranged a trip early doors to the Tourist Information and we got the Metro, Train and Tram maps, but Carris – the bus operator – no longer have a paper bus map. They do have an app, which at first seems great, but – and this is the important bit – it won’t work offline, no map, no route no nuffink unless you are online all the time. Not easy for foreigners running low on data! We found 3rd party public transport apps but they all suffered the same problem. The one thing you need offline is the app and none of them had it.
In the end we did manage to work our way around. Basically we took photos of the route specific bus maps at the bus stops and took screenshots of the bus app while we did have wireless connectivity and pieced it together from there.
In the end we stayed two weeks in Lisbon and made many forays into the town and surrounding area. There are just too many things to do and we could have easily stayed another fortnight, but in the end we started to fret over the schedule – we are three months down and not even three countries down yet so we left on the 24th heading East. The Algarve is to be a casualty of the time pressure!
Here are some choice photos with a little info on the wonderful sights of Lisbon. From here, it’s East back into Spain and down towards Gibraltar.
We left Obidos reasonably early (for us that is!) and we were making good time along the coast road. Even though there was not much wind, the sea was really choppy and there was some atmospheric sea mist blowing in. Then we spotted a lovely bay at Praia São Lourenço and decided to stop for lunch and a quick flight with the drone to try and get a nice couple of shots.
All in all, it meant that we arrived at the camperstop in Sintra about two o’clock and after a chat with some lovely brits in the van next door it was a brisk and a very hard slog up the hill to the Palace Park and National Palace of Pena. We spent a few hours looking around the palace (It used to be a monastery) and walking around the wonderful gardens and then a wild and rapid Tuk-tuk ride down the hill back to the mothership for beer, scrabble, stew and Morgan Freeman (in that order).
The next day we decided to skip town: we had another day planned but both of us were suffering with painful knees and ankles and the schedule didn’t allow for a down day here, so it’s a place we will have to come back to sometime! This is a first – we’ve not really been making too many notes for the next lap of Europe!
A chat with some other lovely brits that turned up just as we were leaving (and they gave us some great ideas about wifi range extenders!) and it’s off to Lisbon a day earlier that we originally planned!
Obidos is a medieval castle and walled town walled town in the Portuguese district of Leiria municipality. (wikipedia.org) It can be traced back to Roman times, although the signature viaduct is not Roman at all but dates to the 16th century, built at the direction of the queen of Portugal.
The town walls are essentially complete and you can walk around most of them. There are no safety barriers though and the path is as narrow as 3 feet in some places and there are also steep steps where the town wall rises with the contours of the hill on which the town sits.
Inside the town the building are mainly white rendered with blue accents and to say they are picturesque does not do them justice. Of course, they all make money the same way by selling things to the tourists. Even in November there are tourists here by the coach loads – literally!
Of course the modern town has expanded beyond the city walls, but there are not too many buildings close to the old town and it retains the feel of a medieval hilltop town. In fact, every July, the town hosts a full two week medieval festival with rousting, jousting, theatre and probably much drinking too.
We explored the lanes and alleys of the town and walked the walls. We could not tour the castle proper as it’s a hotel these days – must be gorgeous! We found a couple of awesome bookshops – one in a converted church and the other with the walls covered in shelves made from wine boxes.
Back to mothership and scrabble and pasta for dinner. The next morning and a brief visit to the (closed) church and we are off towards Sintra.
In the town of Fatima is another huge church and basilica on the pilgrims network. Fatima is important to Catholics because its where, in 1917, Mary appeared to three shepherd children as a ‘Marian apparition’. Since then the church and shrine at Fatima has grown to become a big part of the catholic faith.
The Basilica to Fatima is actually quite modest, most striking is that the stone it’s made from is very light in colour. At the other end of a large sloping courtyard, there is a second, massive structure – the Basílica da Santíssima Trindade. This is a very modern building, having been constructed in 2007 and is the world’s 8th largest church building.
As well as visiting the architectural buildings, we had a wander in the town and did a couple of weeks laundry. It is permitted to stay in the church grounds in a motor-home – there are spots put aside, but we decided to push on south and the next stop was at Mira de Aire.
Mira de Aire is about 10km south of Fatima, but the satnav took us on an 18km route to avoid some 3.5 ton limits. As we approached the town we spotted a sign to the right which looked about right, but Sally told us that there was a weight limit so we proceeded further into town. This ended up a big mistake!
The actual right turn that sally wanted us to take had a huge offset camber and was a very sharp right double-back from the way we were heading and we would never have made the corner. Instead we found another right turn in the town that took back to the satnav route and up the hill towards the camperstop and the caves that are the reason for the trip here.
Unfortunately, the hill was too much for the mothership. T guesses 25%-30% gradient and although the 5 ton beast made it up *just* in first gear, at one point we crossed another road and as we crossed the gradient caused the back of the mothership to ground out. There is a tiny bit of damage to the back bumper. This is exactly the damage we feared most as this area is pretty exposed when there are large elevation/gradient changes in the road surface. Normally we only need to be careful in special places, like on and off ferries etc, but here the road was too extreme.
We arrived shaken but not stirred at the camper stop and the first thing we did was to find a better route down the hill! In the end we decided that the very first sign we saw was the right road to take and ignore the 3.5 ton limit – it’s the only road that lorries can take to get up the bloody hill – so it’s another case where trusting the satnav to avoid the dodgy roads has backfired. There is no signage of the weight limit on the road.
The next morning and it was a short walk to the caves. The company running the caves also has an aqua park and small zoo all in roughly the same place. The aqua park is shut now for the winter (brrr), and the pools and rivers looked a bit sad filled with green water..
So we thought the caves might be a bit of a tourist trap – a sideline from the aqua park, and although the entrance was pretty nondescript, the caves themselves were brilliant. A couple of hundred steps over about a kilometre walked as part of a large underground system not yet fully explored. Again, it’s limestone that’s been eroded. Lots of stalagmites and stalactites. Lots of dripping water and in the deepest part, even an events and function room with fountains and an elevator 75 Meters back to the surface.
We followed our carefully planned and rehearsed route out of the village with no mishaps and it’s off to Obidos for…. wait for it… another fortified hilltop town – yeah!
About 10km outside Coimbra: we arrived at the ruins a little perplexed – the camperstop that we planned and that we put in the sat nav was supposed to be about 2km away from the famous roman ruins that we came to see. But we actually turned up at the car park for the ruins. It seems that this camper stop is a ‘overnight stopping is permissible’ type affair where there is not a permission per se, but they won’t turf you out. We don’t know what happened to the stop we planned to use, but this is actually quite common – most of the apps allow user submissions and user submitted updates, so data quality is sometimes not great!
We quickly got sorted and went exploring. The weather was awful so we interspersed the indoor museum with the large ruins. We still got very wet!
The ruins are great – the old town was set on the top of a hill and with an almost sheer drop on one side.
Prior to excavation the main above ground feature was the city wall – dating to around 3rd century. But that wall was built on an older Roman town which in turn was built on a pre-roman town – so it’s interesting to see that the ruins have been excavated in different ways depending on whether the archaeologists were interested in late roman, early roman or pre-roman settlement.
Behind the main excavated ruins, but still inside the city walls is a grassy meadow with olive trees in, so we guess that over the next decades, the ruins may be excavated further.
Although it seemed a great location for a drone flight, the weather didn’t play ball and also there were quite a few people around so likely we would have been caught by the Portuguese drone law ‘any more than 12 people together is a gathering and must not fly near’. A few days later – in Sintra – we met a Portuguese man flying a drone right over the top of a palace packed with people, but for now we’ll stick with the cautious approach!
His drone, like ours, is a DJI drone. They seem to be a responsible manufacturer, – the drone has built in geofences which enforce no-fly zones and also the drone uploads flight logs to DJI, so if you do anything stupid, DJI could be aware…
For any pilgrims out there, the ruins are on one of the main pilgrims paths to Fatima.
Anyway, the weather didn’t improve and the forecast for the rest of our trip down to Lisbon also seems damp, so there may be less sunny holiday photos for the next week or so!
Our stopover in Coimbra is on the banks of the Mondego river and just 5 minutes walk from town. Coimbra is another wonderful hilly/hilltop city. First impressions are bad – the stopover is messy and the nearby boat club buildings are all looking very dishevelled. But we discover that the recent coastal storms affected Coimbra quite heavily and there are many trees down and the missing cladding from the boat clubs is all due to the recent weather. In fact this may explain the vast numbers of bonfires that we have seen since we entered Portugal – all cleanup after the storms maybe.
Anyway – at the camperstop we have a loo that’s open during the day and we have free fresh water and blackwater drop off, so that’s not bad. The camperstop noted that there is free wifi but this turned out not to be, so the photos and write-up of Coimbra will have to wait until later in the week.
Coimbra used to be the capital of Portugal and so has some famous tombs for example the first and second kings of Portugal are buried in the Santa Cruz Monastery in the city. Also famous is the university which is around 700 years old.
We spent a day wandering round the city markets and visiting the monastery. The monastery was great. The only odd thing was the amount of human relics on display. Morbidly fascinating.
We spent a further day just visiting the many university buildings. The university library (the old library not the new one!) is amazing – it vies with Arundel castle for the top spot on our list, but photos are not allowed in the library so we can’t show you ;-(