Sagres, Luz, Albufeira, Evora, Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra, Obidos, Alcobaca, Nazare, Coimbra
284 days away
463 miles / 745 km since last post
11,508 miles / 18,520 km total
Last Tuesday we left our campsite in Sagres, parking up at the fort a few minutes drive away - the main attraction here. It was a nice walk around the fort, with some good views out across the sea. We were surprised to see quite a lot of people fishing off the edge of the cliffs - especially as the wind was quite strong. I don't think I would ever be that desperate for fresh fish! A fall would have meant certain death...
Returning to the motorhome, Stu noticed that the front tyres of our vehicle were looking quite badly worn - which makes sense considering we have travelled nearly 12,000 miles! As Sagres was a very small town, we knew there would be no hope getting new tyres here, so we headed to a campsite in Luz. We figured that we would be able to use the internet to find a place to get some new tyres. The lady on reception was helpful enough to provide us with the name of a place nearby. In fact, after a bit of research, Stu found another place in Albufeira which sounded better as their website indicated they spoke English. Stu phoned them up, got them to order us a couple of tyres, ready to be installed on Thursday. Seeing as we had to wait for the new tyres, we decided to stay at this site for the next couple of days and take advantage of the new facilities.
On Thursday, after enjoying the beautiful weather for a couple of days and taking things easy, we headed to the garage in Albufeira to get our new tyres fitted. We only had to wait an hour and then we were off again to Evora - about 200km away.
Arriving in the evening, we headed straight to our free stop for the night - a huge parking area just outside the walled city. It appeared fine at first, but at around 9pm the music started - some kind of live show going on nearby. Even with earplugs it was a bit of a struggle getting some sleep on this occasion!
On Friday we took a walk around the city. It was quite nice, and easy enough to do in a couple of hours. The cathedral was nice, and reminders from when the Romans conquered the town in 57 BC, with the old wall surrounding the city and the old Roman temple (or what was left of it anyway). After some lunch in the main square we returned to the motorhome and, via a quick Lidl shop, headed to our free stop in Lisbon.
Our free stop was about 6km from the city centre, in Belem, along the river Tagus. It was from this part of Lisbon where many great explorers from Portugal set off on their voyages of discovery. It was pouring with rain when we arrived in the evening, but to be honest I think we were glad as our vehicle needed a bit of a wash after all these dry days!
Thankfully the weather had cleared by Saturday morning, so we headed out on the bikes. We rode down along the river Tagus, to the Torre de Belem and get more nice views of the river and big bridge. This tower was built as a fortified lighthouse in the 16th century, guarding the port entrance. A little further along was the more modern, but still impressive, Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) built for the Portuguese World Fair in 1940. The other main sight in this area was the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery),
Getting the impression that cycling into the city centre might not be the best idea - as they didn't seem to have bike lanes going that way, we decided to return the bikes to the motorhome, and instead hop on the sightseeing bus which stopped nearby. We figured this might be a good way to orientate ourselves in the city on the first day, and we have found them useful in other big cities before.
After staying on the line all the way into the centre, we had decided that Lisbon was not a very attractive capital city. Apparently, Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest city in Western Europe. It predates other capitals such as London, Paris and Rome by hundreds of years. To be honest, it shows! There were some nice statues and the odd building, but we have seen much nicer big cities. We decided to find a restaurant once we had arrived in the centre. The place we found was OK, and the food quite nice, if a little on the pricey side - but things are always pricier in a capital city. Heading back to the bus stop later, to pick up the last bus returning back to Belem, we were both individually approached by a drug dealer - definitely a first on our trip!
An interesting thing we spotted in Lisbon, which we haven't seen anywhere before, are people standing around waiting to help people park their cars. At first, I thought it was just a couple of oddballs, but we kept seeing them all around the city. I couldn't really understand why they did it - I can only assume they were getting paid, or asking for tips for it, but it was happening in places where it didn't even seem difficult to park. Very weird.
On Sunday, as our bus tickets were valid for two days, we decided to take the bus into the centre again. We were glad we hadn't taken the bikes before as it didn't look very safe. In the centre we got off to get some lunch, opting to be cultural heathens for the day and go to the Hard Rock cafe. We were both in the mood for a burger - which doesn't happen often - and we thought this was probably the place to get one. I'm not ashamed to say that it was actually very nice. Both the food and service were good.
After lunch we got on a different line of the sightseeing bus which goes up around the castle area. It took us through the Muslim area of Lisbon, and then up the steep winding roads around the castle. Whilst this was probably the most interesting looking area we had seen of the city so far, neither of us had a really big desire to get off the bus and wander around here. It just didn't really capture our interest, and besides Oslo in Norway - which really was a dull city - this was probably our next least favourite capital city (Stu note: aside from Brussels!).
We decided that we had seen enough of Lisbon once we got back to the motorhome, so instead of staying another night we decided to drive onto Cascais that evening. On arrival in the area, the first couple of free stops we were looking for - albeit in the dark with not many street lights - we couldn't find, but eventually found one next to a hotel right by the sea. We couldn't actually see the sea and it was pitch black, but we could certainly hear the waves crashing against the side of the cliffs below.
On Monday the weather started off pretty badly, with strong winds and rain. Thankfully the rain soon stopped, so we decided to move on. There was a campsite not to far away, but we didn't really want to stay there as it wasn't really near anything, however we did need to fill up with water, sort out the toilet etc., so we stopped at the campsite and managed to do all of that for a small charge, and then we were off again.
We drove to Sintra, which is quite a small town but we had heard it was supposed to be quite pretty. The roads leading to the town were quite winding and hilly, and the road which headed down to the free camp stop looked a little too steep for us. Instead, we found a parking spot on the side of the main road, and walked into town.
Whilst Sintra was quite pretty, it was very small, and after about half an hour of wandering the little streets, we felt like we had seen everything. We made a brief stop at a sandwich shop for some tasty soup - certainly the best option for lunch as all the proper restaurants were quite pricey. We left Sintra after taking a bit of a wrong turn. As we headed down a road that seemed to get narrower and narrower, we both had a real sense of dread when approarching the end, as there was a really tight bend, with cars parked on both sides of the road. I was convinced that we wouldn't make it and may have to reverse back the whole way. Somehow though, we just about squeezed through. Even a woman stopped on the street to watch, and by the look on her face I don't think she expected us to make it either! Breathing a sigh of relief when we made it through and back onto the main road, we were pleased to spot a coach pulling out in front of us. At least we knew that following the coach would lead us the right way out of the town!
We drove to another small town, Obidos, finding a small Aires camp stop. It seemed we could have just sorted out toilet and water issues here for just €6 for the night - oh well. The stop was OK, parked up right next to the old aquaduct leading into the town.
On Tuesday, we took a walk into Obidos - just a couple of minutes from our camp stop. Another pretty, but very small town. Some more lovely narrow streets and pretty shops, but another brief visit as we had walked around in about an hour.
We drove onto Alcobaca, the main reason for the visit is it being home to one of the most lavish monasteries in Europe (according to our guide book). It also had a free camp stop, but this stop was a huge car park on a fairly steep slope. We could park here, but it wouldn't be comfortable for overnight. As it was just turning 4pm, and the monastery would shut within the hour, we figured that we may not have enough time for a proper visit. So instead we decided to drive to another free stop, not far away in Nazare, and then return the following day. The free stop in Nazare was a small car park area for motorhomes, and fortunately we grabbed the last free spot. The weather took a turn for the worse though and the wind really picked up by the evening, with sporadic rain through the night.
Yesterday (Wednesday) we awoke to calmer and sunnier weather, if a little chillier than it has been of late. We drove back to Alcobaca, almost expecting the monastery to not live up to expectations. In fact, it was really worth the visit. The main building being really impressive, so we also opted to take the audio tour of some of the rest of the monastery too (although some parts weren't accessible unfortunately due to restoration works).
We took lunch at a restaurant opposite the monastery, both opting for the Portuguese classic (so we were told) of Bifana. Basically, a pork chop sandwich to you and me. It was good and we opted for some vegetable soup too - also very nice.
After Alcobaca we drove for about 100km, finding yet another free stop in Coimbra, just across the river from the main centre of the city. As it was getting late in the day when we arrived, we decided to just park up and settle in for the night.
Today (Thursday), we took a walk over the foot bridge across the river, and into Coimbra. It was a very pleasant walk around, the most impressive sights being the church in the centre, as well as the cathedral and university buildings. We also visited the Museum of the Holy House of Mercy - only by chance really. To be honest, the paintings inside were of little interest, with the main reason for the visit being the opportunity to climb the clock tower. The 88 steps steps didn't sound too difficult, but the last set of steps to the top were extremely tight, and with us also having to lift open an iron trapdoor to access the roof. Well worth the effort. Some nice views across the city at the top.
The rest of the time was spent taking a general walk around. Some of the narrow streets, heading uphill towards the university area were ruined slightly by quite a lot of graffiti. We made a stop in the centre of town at a restaurant for lunch, which was pretty average. Actually, average has quite often been our experience of food in Portugal so far. Maybe we just haven't picked the right places yet.