Toledo by Night

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A little fed up of Portugal we decided to take a fairly extensive detour to the middle of Spain. Probably somewhere we were going to skip, we finally decided that it would be great to include a trip to the Capital as we had already stopped by most of the major Spanish cities. On our way we found Toledo, a fortified city, winding it’s way up a hill. Castles, Palaces, Cathedrals and Mosques all bundled neatly into one little picturesque area. The city expands outside the walls and is surrounded by a river, creating a great little place to camp. There’s a campsite called El Greco that we didn’t use due to a dispute with the guy on reception. Feeling confused and guilty we read a few trip adviser reviews, and this confirmed to us that he is generally a little emotional, reading some reviews about him dramatically ripping up maps at guests. Alternatively there’s a really big carpark that is completely unrestricted (Esplanada de Tierra). We camped here for two nights, and had no issues, other than – even in early October this area is crazy-hot!

Take a walk around at night when everything is lit up and the tourists have been carted off, by their coaches, to there chosen holding pens. Most of the bars and restaurants remain open well into the night so treat yourself to a glass of wine and take in the stunning views over the city. Being described as a city of three cultures you get a real mix of influences in the architecture, with a  Christian, Muslim and Jewish history.

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Lisbon – Honest Review

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We took a drive around the city before we committed to checking into a campsite, and on the face of it, we decided to give it a go. On first glance Lisbon looks like a nice city that’s a little rough around the edges. Unfortunately on a proper inspection we found that it’s a rough city, which has a few nice buildings. Walking around the city is a little more annoying than most that we’ve been to on this trip, as you get the feeling of being a little more tightly packed in. Too many tourists per square meter, and this was at the end of September. If you get stuck behind the wrong group of waddling tourists you can easily lose half an hour. As your frustration builds you also notice quite poor air quality, there are lots of cars/motorbikes/trams/tuk-tuks/buses all cramming themselves into the narrow streets,  kicking out fumes. This is of course if you survive the bus journey into the city.  I would imagine the amount of bus related deaths are quite high as they speed through the congested streets. The percentage of odd people is also a little too high for my liking, and when I say “odd” that’s the nicest way I could put it. In reality they are drunks, wierdos, skanks and a lot of people without many teeth. You do have to accept, even in the UK, that when you get on a bus you get the odd strange person that’s a little louder than usual, or has questionable hygiene, but in Lisbon it’s uncomfortable. Once you step off the bus, you realise that this problem isn’t just confined to public transport.

I’ve been offered drugs over twenty times today, and had a number of people walk past me winking and doing that reverse nod thing, basically suggesting that I could buy drugs from them, but without directly asking. Then even more annoying than the drug dealers are the waiters. There are a few roads that you just can’t walk down, due to the barrage of waiting staff pushing menus in your face. Before you’ve left one restaurant’s territory the next waiter is already on you. I challenge even the politest of people to walk down these streets and not want to punch someone at the end. I think I did very well to keep my cool, as I’m generally grumpy at the best of times. I’ve read a few reviews of Portugal, but Lisbon in particular, stating the food is amazing and cheap. Unfortunately this isn’t the case, it’s cheap food with terrible service all at inflated prices. We chose the best of the terrible restaurants and quickly realised that our dinner was straight out of a microwave. Avoid this restaurant – Dama e Vagabundo. If you want to pay extortionate prices, I think you could find decent food in Lisbon, but I would save you money for a more deserving city/country.

I would imagine you’ve realised by now that we didn’t enjoy the city and certainly wouldn’t recommend it. The campsite we chose is basically the same story. The reception staff use as fewer words as possible to deal with your enquiries, and there’s litter throughout the grounds. We paid 24 Euros per night, which is the most we’ve paid for a campsite. In the same vein as the whole of Portugal, it’s not as good as most places and more expensive. Capitalising on their location Lisboa Camping is one to avoid.

Two positive things that we found in a full days’ exploration of Lisbon:

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The custard tarts  – Pastel de Nata – there’s a pasteleria where you can buy these, on the hill up towards the Castelo de S. Jorge, don’t lower yourself to queuing in the street for the Pasteis de Belem Bakery as most of the guide books advise you to.

Montana Lisboa – a really great cafe/bar. I just wish we found this place earlier and we could have had lunch here. It’s the perfect location, right on the river front, and on a sunny day treat yourself to a Ice Mudaf#%+in-T (Iced Tea) and take home some of their roasted coffee beans.

Portugal – General Info

Portugal is somewhere that until a few days ago I knew nothing about. My knowledge is still very limited, but I can let you in on what I know so far. Portugal, having a strong maritime background, was one of the first countries to sail off and colonise a load of places. They were the first to build decent ships and compasses that worked – mainly due to a chap called Henry. They developed good trade with some Asian countries, took over Brazil, and set up shop in Africa. Meanwhile as the rest of Europe caught on to the idea of sailing about and taking over places, the Portuguese hold began to diminish.

They’ve had a love/hate relationship with their neighbours Spain, at one point they even shared a monarchy, ending a healthy relationship with the Brits when they lent a few ships to Spain to join the armada (low blow). Obviously Britain wasn’t having any of it and eventually the Portuguese also decided to tell the Spanish to jog on.  Then a French bloke called Napoleon stuck his nose in, and took over Portugal, sending the Portuguese monarchy to Brazil with their tail between their legs. The Brits, having a soft spot for the crafty Portuguese, came to the rescue and saw off the French but by this time a lot of the Portuguese had already packed their bags and buggered off to Brazil.

The Dutch, feeling like they were missing out, also decided to have a pop at the Portuguese. Focusing mainly on their Brazilian and African colonies. The Portuguese were losing interest in their African buddies, but were adamant they weren’t going to hang up their flip flops just yet and kept hold of most of the east coast of Brazil. Then a fella called Pedro chirped up and declared the independence of Brazil. He had a son, also called Pedro, who went on to have a daughter, unfortunately not being able to call her Pedro she was called Isabel. Anyway Isabel ended slavery in Brazil and booted out the Portuguese.

Their African exploits also ended after having a series of wars with the locals, the military in Lisbon decided enough was enough, and had a winge at the government and they brought everyone home.

This brings us to modern day, and our own invasion of this historic country. From what we’ve seen – Portugal’s coastline is stunning. Very similar to the coasts of north Devon, it has a million beaches but the towns are a little scarce. The Atlantic hammers away at the sandy shores, meaning most of them are suited to surfers rather than swimmers, and with a noticeably cooler temperature you may need to pack some warmer clothes.

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For some reason Portugal is on the same time as England, which has thrown us out a little having spent the last month in Spain and enjoying long sunny evenings. We have mixed views on Portugal so far, as we drive north we’ve seen a big divide between the poor locals and wealthy people that have moved here to buy cheap property in the sun. There’s loads of derelict industrial buildings around, giving the place a bit of a depressing feel, and we’ve noticed a significant lack of people in the smaller towns. As you would imagine there are a lot of surf camps along the coast, and literally every other car on the road is a campervan. While this sounds good, I think some are giving the campervan scene a bad name – trying to play up to the surfer image, some of the people we’ve seen  emerge from their grotty vans look a right state.

Fuel is expensive, food is expensive, campsites are expensive – but with no justification. It’s noticeably poorer than Spain, but everything is EXPENSIVE???

We’ve found a few beaches so far that have had decent facilities but not many, so coupled  with not being able to swim in the sea – it’s been harder to wild camp here. We’ve decided to hit the two big cities, Lisbon and Porto, while trying to find a few nice coastal spots in between. We’re speeding up our stay in Portugal due to the cost, and to be honest we’re not having that much fun here. If you don’t surf it’s very limited.

I’m sure the cities will be great, and despite it being a little too barren in parts there is  this stunning coastline. I don’t think we will be returning to Portugal though or even to the south of Spain, it doesn’t have the buzz of northern Spain or the bakeries of France. With too many other places to see the only reason we may be back this way is to get to Morocco. After speaking to some people that have kitted out a 4×4 sprinter and are making their way to Africa, if they come back alive, we could be convinced to give it a shot.

Praia da Costa de Santo André

This was a great little car park/motorhome park up. The beach here is stunning, with a lagoon that also joins in. There’s a short boardwalk, and a reasonably priced beach bar. Watching the sunset here was a treat.

There’s a toilet out the back of the beach bar, so you can use the facilities without needing to look like a patron and a beach shower. Alternatively at the entrance to the car park is a toilet/shower facility. There’s no hot water but still better than nothing.

I would highly recommend a day at the beach here, and there’s no issues with parking up for the night. Listen out for the bread van in the morning too, he delivers fresh bread to the small restaurant, and turned up around 9-ish in he morning. Be warned though, don’t expect nice French style bread, you could have knocked nails in with the loaf we bought.

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Vila Nova de Milfontes

Nice place to stop for lunch, possibly on your way through to Santo André where you can park up for the night. This is the mouth of a river, which has beaches either side. Good car parks, where you can park up for the afternoon, with steps down to a very quiet beach. You can actually have a dip in the sea here, as you’re sheltered from the onslaught of the Atlantic. We didn’t stay here, as the car park was a little too much on show, I would guess you may get moved on, so we didn’t attempt it.

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Sagres

We crossed the border and into Portugal, immediately our progress is halted with a confusing sign that suggests tourist should pull over into what looks like a toll gate. We pull in, and try to decipher how this country has decided to charge people for use of their poor road network. Portugal uses a pre-pay system that’s confusing and results in no one using the motorways. This tollgate was a way of registering your number plate with a credit card so you could buy some motorway time. Not taking Visa Debit, we didn’t bother, and like everyone else we’ve stuck to the poorly maintained roads that run along the coast. We entered Portugal at the “Algarve” an area that was lost to tourism in the 60’s, we quickly decided this wasn’t for us and drove straight through. Picking up three hitchhikers on our drive, two brits and an aussie girl that wanted to get to a hostel in Lagos, made the journey more interesting. This also made a nice little detour through Lagos, which we probably would have skipped otherwise. There’s fresh orange juice sold along most of the roads in the Algarve, and since it was a scorcher we couldn’t resist. We continued until we came to the most southern west tip of Europe – Sagres.

This is a Surfers paradise, and what seems to be the start of the campervan coast. Leaving the Mediterranean behind, we’ve progressed to the Atlantic side again. The lighthouse at Sagres is mainly surrounded by cliff tops, hovering over quite a ferocious sea. The temperature has noticeably dropped, and a group of Portuguese street sellers are capitalising on this, selling big heavy blankets and jumpers. 25 Euros for a big heavy  cotton blanket that now covers our RIB bed, and gives a homely feel to the van. Also it felt nice to support a Local Portuguese family, as there’s a big divide between them and the wealthy people that have moved here.

We parked up here for the night, and the mist descended. Barely being able to see the van next to us, but still being able to hear the crash of the waves below was an odd sensation, but it’s a great place to spend a night, as long as you don’t mind a little battering from the wind. Just around the corner on the Med side, there’s some stunning beaches, so you can hide from the elements if you wanted, but the town’s a little scarce.

The lighthouse is a bit of an attraction, and people seem to gather here to watch the sun going down. Being right at the bottom of Europe, we get a nice sensation that we are actually quite far from home, and watching the sun going down is a nice way to end our first day in Portugal.

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Saved by Seville

We caught the bus into town, unaware of the absolute treat that was in store for us. Stepping off into a bustling street with cars and scooters flying about, in a daze we wander down the road a little and notice most people are making their way through a very elegant arched doorway. We presume it must be a free museum, or a least a good starting point to our city adventure. Verity hangs back preparing her camera, and I wander off unsupervised. I clamber up a few steps and round a central pillar that blocks the view from the entrance, and I’m stopped dead in my tracks. I can’t quite take in what I’m seeing, it’s too much if you’re not expecting it. We’ve stumbled into a side entrance for the Plaza de Espana, as my eyes adjust from the shaded dim light of the entrance I’m hit with full spectrum of light as I emerge into this:

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Also used in the filming of Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the clones. This building is ridiculous, and we wandered around in awe for about an hour. The rest of Seville is great too. In the same vein as the cities in the North of Spain, ancient buildings keep jumping out at you with every corner.  Take a peaceful walk along the other side of the river and there’s a really cool motorbike cafe. They have a brand new KTM Duke 1290, and a Royal Enfield Continental GT just sat in the windows. Moving on – as I know this doesn’t interest most people, Seville is a city that you can just wander around, and you can easily spend two days here.

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We treated ourselves to a menu of the day again at one of the restaurants in the centre, and a Spanish chap started belting out some Gypsy Kings type of music. He was really good, and was the cherry on the cake of our perfect day exploring.

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We stayed at the Villsom campsite, and we can recommend this as a good site to stay at. The pool is really nice, and the facilities are really clean. We paid 21 Euros per night, which is a bit too expensive if you ask me, but it enabled us to see Seville knowing the van was safe. The bus to the centre was really easy from this site, and you will get all the info from the helpful reception.