Muros

Heading over to the Galicia Coast, somewhere that I’ve been excited about seeing from the start of our trip. Only hearing good things about this area, we were not let down. This coastal stretch of North West Spain is a hidden gem. Leaving that sun scorched feeling of central Spain behind us, it was a pleasure to see green forests, beaches and flowing rivers again. Right up my street, so much so that I would actually consider moving here. The only stumbling block is – how to make some dosh, as tourism hasn’t really hit this area yet.

We arrived at Vigo, having not done any research, to discover it’s quite big. We’re feeling a little city’d out, and in desperate need of little seaside havens, we started driving up the coast. Stumbling into a toll gate, we needed to enlist Sat Nav’s help to avoid further tolls. After remembering a recommendation from the couple that were bound for Africa, we typed in Muros and hoped for the best. This paid off, and as we rolled through town we came to carpark near the small fishing harbour. Loosening the purse strings a little we had finally found a place that serves toastado con aceite y tomate (tomato and olive oil on toast) – a traditional Spanish breakfast, served with a coffee or tea, you can order two for a little over 5 Euros – It’s so good to be back in Spain! (Restaurante A Muradana) We had a wander around the back streets and popped out near the small docks. Muros isn’t a big place, but great for breakfast or lunch.

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We carried on as it didn’t quite tick all the boxes for staying over night and we soon came to San Francisco beach. Literally 2 minutes around the corner this is a great place to park up. We stayed here for two nights., and spent two hot days on the beach. The car park is on a bit of a slope, but if you get the bottom spot you can park right next to a stunning beach with showers and good shade from the sun. A bakery vans pulls up at the top of the car-park in the morning, and the cafe at the top with the conservatory type add on (green cover) has a toilet that you can use if you buy a tea or coffee for 1 Euro. We did this trick and ended up having toast and a croissant too as it was so cheap. The owner was a nice chap that tried really hard to give very good service. We looked on google maps for a nearby shop as we had run out of food, but nothing was (lazy) walking distance away. We also felt the urge to move on, so we packed up in search of some food. Teaching us not to rely on technology so much, just up the road was a fantastic little independent food shop – that seemed to have everything. The eggs were laid from her own hens, and the veg was as fresh as it comes. Next stop Fisterra.

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Fundraising – Borneo

Tammy’s sending herself off to Borneo to help tackle issues around climate change, and the effects that our consumerist lifestyles are having on the lesser developed world. This is a really great cause, and hats off to her for braving the elements and wanting to get  stuck in. She’s volunteering as part of the Raleigh organisation and committed herself to 5 weeks hard graft out in the rainforest of Borneo.

It’s almost impossible not to impact the environment in our everyday lives, but even small changes can make an effect. For instance cutting down on foods that contain Palm oil, getting your takeout coffee in a re-usable cup, or simply turning off lights.

It’s a problem that will affect us all, and it’s not going away!

You can help sponsor young inspiration people like Tammy and make a difference.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/tammy-hesketh

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Madrid

Madrid is slap bang right in the middle of Spain. I found this pretty inconsiderate considering that we wanted to make small jumps along the coast. Wary that even in October this area is very hot, and without the breeze of the coast or the facilities usually found along the beaches we decided that we would have to find campsites. It’s just too uncomfortable not to have a proper shower here. So therefore this limits our stay to a few days as unfortunately I’m not made of money.

There’s very few campsites in Madrid, and we basically had the choice of two. Obviously we chose the wrong one first. We drove just under an hour north of the city to camping la Fresneda. This was in a big patch of green on the map, so we took a punt that it may be nice. It wasn’t – far from it, infact. I don’t know how they have the cheek to call themselves a campsite. Anyway we were left with Camping Osuna, which is closer to the city, but also more expensive. Our first thoughts were, this is a bit scabby, but it actually wasn’t that bad. It’s quite deceiving from reception, but the site extends quite a way, and the facilities were always kept spotless. The only issue here was the noise. It’s situated right between two busy roads, and there’s a really noisy school or park nearby to add to it. We paid 22 Euros per night here and after a few tight fisted grumble noises, I decided that it’s wasn’t too bad – knowing the van was safe while we explored the capital. There’s a metro station fairly close to the site, and this takes you directly into the city. It’s 2 Euros each way per person, and takes about 30 minutes.

We left the metro via ‘Opera’, which is really close to the Palace, arriving just in time for the changing of the guard – or at least the Spanish version. I found it quite ironic that there were a load of police that were guarding the guards throughout, but this was fair enough as someone had to deal with the Asian tourists. They go bonkers for all this Royal palaver. I was a little confused as the first bunch of horse guards trotted in chatting to each other, I thought this may just be the warm up act, although they did have very shiny boots.  Then a marching band turned up with some confused stop-starting, and then some big old shire horses turned up pulling heavy cannons. I don’t think anyone knew what they were doing. I was expecting to see a performance with military precision and some very stern faces. I’m not a big fan of all this bravado and poncing about, but if you’re going to get all dressed up at least act the part. I started to feel a little patriotic knowing that we wouldn’t put up with this nonsense at our Queenies house – Amateurs!

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They fired their cannon at the end of the performance, which completely startled this poor little dog. Scared out of his mind, and with his owners not paying him any attention, I was considering going to try and calm this dog myself – then Karma struck perfectly on que and the little dog pee’d all over his owners trainers.

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There’s loads to do in the city, but it is a little spread out, we even set a new city record, covering 14 miles as we explored on foot. The Parque de El Retiro is a great way to while away an afternoon, watching street performers as you stroll through the park. Head towards the crystal palace, and keep an eye out for the little turtles having a wonderful time as they propel themselves through the water and squabble for the best place on the  ramp.

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We had the cunning idea to visit some of the museums later on in the day, as entry became free after a set time. Unfortunately so did half of Madrid, and the queue to the Museo Nacional del Prado was roughly around half a kilometer long. Our plans quickly changed as we stood in amazement looking at the ever growing queue. We couldn’t quite understand why people would put themselves through this ordeal. The Reina Sofia was down the road, but unfortunately we found this to have the same problem, so we took ourselves off to a local coffee shop to have a grumble about bloody tourists! After a nice coffee and a hefty wedge of carrot cake I felt revived and ready for a short walk to the Plaza Mayor. We ended the day with a Chocolate and Churros, although they didn’t quite live up to their reputation, I think we just chose the wrong place to have our churros experience. I have faith that you can find the authentically light an fluffy kind somewhere in the city, but not at  Chocolateria San Gines, which is odd because that’s what they specialise in. Maybe they were just having a bad day.

 

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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