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Published: August 29th 2016
Italian-born Christopher Columbus got the gong in 1492 for scoring the first goal in the exploration game. But as he was financed by the Spanish crown, his actions were on behalf of Spain.
Portugal’s Vasco de Gama succeeded in something different when he found a sea route to the riches of India and beyond in 1498.
Then Spain and Portugal began a series of colonial conquests that fetched riches in proportions never before dreamt of. (Note to classmates from U3A – sentence ending in a preposition. But as Winston Churchill noted – “that is a rule up with which I will not put”)
Anyhow Spain and Portugal became super powers, selected citizens became filthy rich, and a whole new world opened up. Some rich merchants from Italy realised they had been left behind at the starting line tried to get into the new adventure, but all they got out of it was that one of their guys left his moniker on the two continents we know as South and North America, and Citizen Columbus was claimed by Spain
After a few decades, Frank Drake found a way of sharing the riches so as to benefit England; the
Dutch grabbed a few islands too, and somehow Portugal’s claim to the loot slipped through their hands.
At school, we spoke of ‘Spain and Portugal’ as if they were twins, when what we meant was the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal came second in the honours. And so it is today: Portugal seems to be the poor cousin.
Portugal is certainly different to Spain. Their language is more akin to French and so we encountered numerous French visitors and many Portuguese opened their conversation to us in what might well have been French. In Italy we saw excessive numbers of over the top style cathedrals, decorated on a preposterous scale rasping against a practical world; cathedrals we saw in Spain displayed a truly splendid and distinctly Spanish decoration style, but not so numerous to feel as if one had pigged out on cathedrals; In Portugal, churches are more sensible, decorated in rich style but without going to extremes.
Both Portuguese and Spanish greeted us warmly without losing sincerity to fake enthusiasm. They have been happy to communicate even though the language barrier might appear insurmountable. Younger people in both Portugal and Spain generally speak very good English. Invariably shop
assistants and service people in Portugal used correct English grammar, vocabulary and sentence construction so well that we in Australia would benefit from engaging them to teach English in our schools, replacing the semi-illiterates presently warming school payroll positions.
But in the places where we camped, both Portuguese and Spanish were inclined to bring hordes of children and dogs to places that are meant as overnight stop points, where it would be better for the kids and canines to be in one of the well-equipped resort style campgrounds that have lots of space and activity equipment. We did notice more Spanish in Portugal than the other way around. Not only does Spain have a larger population, but they appear to have a bit more of the folding stuff available for travel. So they can slip across the border to Portugal where most things are cheaper (with notable exceptions being fuel and road tolls.)
Since being in Italy in mid-summer we have been constantly searching for shade. If you get hold of a travel guide or coffee table book covering southern Europe, have a look at the pictures of the cities. Invariably you will see a city built on
a hill with buildings of stone, capped with a terracotta roof, set in streets of stone and concrete. Many vistas of their cities do not include a single shade tree. And these nations have the gall to join a chorus imploring Australia to stop selling coal to Chinese factories that need the stuff. It seemed to me that the last tree planted in a town in Italy was before the fall of the Roman Empire. And Spain seems to prefer a treeless plain. But in Portugal, shade trees are everywhere. Also, we noticed large numbers of eucalypts and in places, we drove through avenues where trees lined both sides of the road similar to what we enjoy in France.
Portuguese roads and other infrastructure are in great condition. Their hilly terrain has called for the building of many viaducts. With so much publicity devoted to reporting the perilous state of their finances, it has been refreshing to see that they have built good gear that will serve generations to come.
Farming in Portugal appears to be mainly small scale. In the south, land is desolate and as we passed through villages that looked like perfect setting for a
Mexican cowboy shoot out movie, I expected to see a bewhiskered Clint Eastwood leaning against the doorway of a whitewashed house with the stubby end of a burnt cigar sticking out of his gob looking under the brim of a battered hat, while a few locals sat around in big sombrero hats under the scorching 40 degrees mid-afternoon heat. That southern country couldn’t raise a bandicoot. If you consider farming is something you do by starting with a million dollars and you keep farming until it’s all gone, Southern Portugal is for you. North of Lisbon farms are often small, market garden size but much more productive looking. Broadacre agriculture like we saw in Spain does not happen in the parts of Portugal we saw.
Fatima is one place we visited. Western Europe’s cultural and historic attractions have a strong Christian theme, most of which is centuries old. Fatima is due to hold centenary celebrations in 2017. The site where Mary visited three young children now has significant facilities for pilgrims, including a 9,000 seat/kneel basilica, a traditional European cathedral built in the 1920s and a chapel at the original site. It is possibly the only such religious location
we have visited that had adequate parking. Not only does it have parking for cars and buses, but it has campgrounds and places for motor homes, which of course we utilized.
With warmer weather, multilingual service providers, a huge coastline and better beaches than neighbouring countries, Portugal is an excellent place to holiday.
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