We are at the end of week three and are finally starting to get the warmer weather we have been waiting for- our high so far is about 34 degrees. We have had our first experience of driving with no air conditioning along the hot highway with all our windows open and our first night of trying to sleep in the hot box of the van.
After leaving Islares we headed further along the Spanish coastline and lucked out finding a beautiful little town called Llanes. Llanes is part of what is known as the 'Green Coast’, which is known for its outstanding shorelines and mountains. The town has a pretty little port and the stunning Picos de Europa mountain range as its backdrop. After finding a nice little free camping spot by the water we headed into town to check out the port, and find a tapas bar. While we were drinking our beer and eating our tapas we noticed all the locals in the bar had a bottle of cider and each person had an empty pint glass. At every 5 or 10 minute interval the barman would appear and proceed to pour a small amount of the
cider from the bottle held high above his head into the awaiting pint glass four feet below him in his opposite hand. The cider would hit the side of the pint glass, bouncing around, with most of it landing on the bar floor, then being quickly consumed by the awaiting patron before the newly formed bubbles degassed. Michael flagged down the waiter, pointing to the cider bottle on the opposite table, whilst doing an embarrassing impression of the pouring technique. The waiter got the idea and we soon discovered why it was the drink of choice for the locals, especially when we found out the bottle only cost us €2.30.
We decided to cut off the northwestern corner of Spain and crossed a spectacular mountain range with our sights set on the coastal town of Baiona. We had a cozy little camping spot on a sandy peninsular, with a private beach. The town was a touristy little seaport, which had a pretty fortress overlooking the water. One good thing about traveling in the off-season is we miss the huge tourist numbers- Baionas population of 11000 swells to 45000 in summer.
Our next stop was Porto, which is
the second largest city in Portugal. Porto is a beautiful city- one of prettiest in Europe in my opinion. It is built on the hills overlooking the Douro River, had heaps of little alleyways and is famous for port wine. First on our agenda was to try one of its other famous specialties- the Francesinha sandwich which is only found in Porto, and frequently appears on 'top 10' sandwich lists. The sandwich is made with bread, ham, chorizo sausage, and steak and covered with cheese and a thick tomato and beer sauce and served with fries. It is possibly the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten, I even feel sick writing about it now. The bread was all-soggy and the meat was gross. I think we offended the waiters by not finishing our meals!
The rest of the day was defiantly an improvement as there was no way possible not to enjoy the city. We climbed the bell tower, visited one of the many Churches, and went to the most beautiful book store/library in the world (or so the tourism office told us) with an amazing staircase in the center. The city was full of art students drawing
its beautiful architecture around every corner. We spent the rest of the day stopping for drinks in all the different viewpoints around the city. At dinner we tried the famous Port wine, which was delicious. Sadly due to daylight savings we forgot how late it was and therefore missed out on the port tasting as they had shut by the time we got to them!
With the thermostat rising we continued to push south in pursuit of Lisbon. We made a few stops on the way including the Pena Palace in Sintra. The Palace is positioned on the crest of the hill over looking the Portugal coastline and was once the summer holiday home for the King of Portugal. Thousands of colourful Portuguese tiles made up the surface of the palace and was very beautiful to see during dusk when the sunlight was a little softer and the tour buses had departed.
After enjoying Porto so much we were eagerly awaiting to see how Lisbon the capital of Portugal would stand up. Lisbon backs onto the vast Tagus River and is one of the oldest cities in the world- older than London and Rome by hundreds of years.
The city is spread over hillsides, has many beautiful gothic cathedrals, a castle and bright yellow trams winding their way around the streets. We visited the Castle of Sao Jorge, which provided us with a magnificent vista of the city, and one of the towers had an amazing periscope, which allowed us to see a 360-degree view of the city. The Periscope demonstration was amazing- the optical images form the periscope lens projected onto a round canvas the size of an 8 seater dinning table, with 15 of us easily standing around watching the demonstration. We could see airplanes landing at the near by airport, boats passing under the April 25th bridge (no joke about the name) and cars driving across the Ponte Vasco da Gama (longest bridge in Europe at 17km). Great way to get your bearings for the city and it was well worth the visit.
Lisbon is famous for Fado music, which is played with a guitar, and we heard a few demonstrations as we wandered the city. We also tried some of the delicious Portuguese Pastel de natas, which are custard tarts. Lisbon seamed a lot more culturally diverse than Porto, which could be seen
not only by the large African community but the number of bars and live music that appeared around every corner as we explored the streets of the city. By pure chance we happened to be in Lisbon to catch the finish of the 7th leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, which started its round the world battle back in October last year. With the boats arriving the night before we went down to the docks to see what was happening. All of the support teams and sponsors were there in full force for each of the boats as they weren't wasting any time preparing for the 8th leg of the race due to depart for Lorient, France on the 9th of June.
We are now in the famous touristy area of The Algarve, where we will stay for a few days and explore the areas many beaches, bars and restaurants.
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