Saturday 9 January 2016

Into Portugal, Joined by the Rain

Spain and Portugal, 29th December 2015 – 4th January 2016

Happy New Year to all! We made it to the Portuguese coast for New Year’s Eve but unfortunately the rain joined us. It's not as bad here as in the UK at least with temperatures in the high teens. We have spent an unusually long, for us, time at the same beach spot due to being in good company with fellow Brits and to sit out the weather for a while.

Super cheap fuel prices. If passing through this way soon
‘easy’ fuel station on the main road just after Irun is only
cent more, and significantly cheaper than anywhere else
we saw along the main route down through Spain where
they were €0.95-0.98
Before leaving France we called at Capbreton for a stock up on croissants, pain au chocolats and Cidre. Over the border in Spain we found fuel prices were down there too, at Alcampo (which price matches against the local area), diesel was now only €0.845 (down from €0.91 two weeks ago), that’s only 61p, the lowest we’ve ever paid. We made good progress cruising down the E80 dual-carriageway and made use of the time listening to another constructive audiobook - Dale Carnegi’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which was recommended to me years ago by a summer job colleague, and now finally got around to reading/listening to it. It was sunny and warm in the afternoon at 21°C so we were down to T-shirts. We stopped for the night at an Aire in the village of Torquemada (GPS: 42.03704 -4.31610, Free inc. serv. pt.) next to the church in a quiet spot, where we joined another four motorhomes. In contrast to the warm temperatures during the day, being at quite high elevation we woke up to find it was chilly in the morning at 3°C outside and only 6°C inside so the heating had to go on!

 Dark skies we passed under in Spain
On our way through Spain we stopped at Valladolid for another Lidl stock up, this time sliced salami and chorizo as it’s better than the stuff available in Portugal. We came away with chorizo in three forms – full sausage, sliced and diced! At a lunch stop further along near Salamanca we planned which way to take into Portugal. The route in via Vilar Formoso requires taking small twisty roads to avoid the main toll road which we remembered to be slow-going on the way out of Portugal on a previous trip in 2012, even for a compact Vivaro camper. We looked up online about the pre-pay toll system and finding the 60km stretch we’d need to use would be reasonable at around €8 so we bought €10 of credit and got on our way.

 Once in Portugal on the A25 there was a long 5% downhill section that has escape lanes that turn off uphill which I’ve not seen before. After turning off the motorway onto twistier roads it started to rain and got worse, with full-speed wipers required for a while. The Aire we stopped at in Nogueira do Cravo (GPS: 40.33363 -7.86732, Free inc. serv. pt.) is in a pleasant spot next to a picnic area and has some large brick-built BBQ/cooking grilles undercover. At half-hour intervals a nearby church chimed a verse of varying Christmas Carols.

Awkward trees to negotiate on the way in/out of the Aire

The Brit corner at Costa de Lavos
The next morning after the initial twisty roads we got onto the relatively new IC6 and then a free section of the A14 bringing us into Figueira da Foz. We drove into the town and along the seafront which has a huge and very wide beach, seeing a section of a carpark full of motorhomes. Pulling in for a closer look there were no spaces left and they were all Portuguese vans, it seems they were here for New Year celebrations in the town that night. We continued a short distance south down the coast to an Aire at Costa de Lavos (GPS: 40.08774 -8.87423, Free inc. serv. pt.) which is part of the beach car park in this coastal village. Driving in we were welcomed by a couple waving who were walking their dogs so we parked up near three other British vans in a spot with a sea view. As I got out of the van to turn the gas on, Robert who was stood with Brian and Joanne next to their large tag-axle Carthago, said “bon dia” so I went over to say hello and had a chat to them.

Jo and I went for a walk on the beach, along the sea front and back through the village, the whole way followed by a friendly stray dog that was one of several in the area.  We had a quiet New Year’s Eve and went to bed just after midnight, going to sleep to the sound of the sea. We’ve heard that there is a Spanish tradition (although can’t find any info to back this up) that at the start of the New Year you should be doing what you’d like your year to consist of and we were relaxed in our camper parked by a beach, so that’ll do us nicely!

We ended up staying at Costa de Lavos for four nights as it was a nice spot, we had quite a lot of rain so were waiting this out, and had good company to spend the rainy days indoors within our little community there as they were all friendly folk. A bread van came in the mornings so we were able to get nice fresh bread rolls. We spent a lot of the time round at the other vans talking about travels etc, spending a couple of hours or so with each of them in the first couple of days. Robert and Carol are on a three month holiday in Portugal for their sixth year in a row, having closed their business for winter. Scots, Brian and Joanne in their monster Carthago that they only bought a couple of months ago are away for 3-4 months on their first trip abroad as a trial run to see if they want to continue long term touring. They’ve built and sold their last two houses in Scotland and plan to do the same with a third one. Retired couple Linda and Cezar are over-wintering in Portugal this year for the first time but are veteran travellers having being full-timing for ten years. They’ve toured around much of Europe, some places several times, impressively without going on a campsite for over six years, and also covered some of northern Africa, so had lots to talk about.

On the one nice day we had, we got the bikes out and went for a cycle ride towards Lavos, the inland town of the coastal village Costa de Lavos. From here I tried to take us in a loop back which ended up being quite a detour through surrounding villages totalling 17km which Jo wasn’t impressed about after just wanting a short ride. On the Sunday we were planning to leave, however around midday we went around to Linda and Cezar’s Hymer to ask about their experience of Morocco and as Linda likes to talk it was gone 5pm by the time we left, and that was only because I had to go to the loo! They told us the story all about their time in Morocco and journey there with two German couples that they travelled with, which was highly amusing and interesting. We all had a great laugh and continued talking about future plans, careers and families while the rain came down outside. Partway through Linda prepared some fruit and got out some custard flaky pastries from the bread van that we feasted on.

Half an hour after getting back to our van Linda came around with Fi, a German lady from another motorhome staying here. Fi had a table booked in a café-bar in the village but her husband didn’t feel up to going so we agreed to keep her company for the evening and a short while later walked into the village with her for dinner. There’s a pet budgie (or similar) in the bar area not in a cage that Fi talked to and picked up when we went in, then brought over to our table after the meal. We could just make out the words “soup” and “chicken” from the waitress who didn’t speak English or German, which we said yes to and it turned out we got the ementa do dia (menu of the day). After soup, bread and olives we got a platter with pieces of grilled chicken, rice, chips, and some salad. We had a bottle of local wine between us and for dessert a bowl of fruit, then a coffee, all for only €9 each. We took away the chicken we didn’t eat and it was enough for sandwiches the next day too.

While saying farewell to Linda and Cezar they gave us a choice of sweet pastries each to take with us and a card to open later that has some nice and motivating words in. We hope to cross paths with them again on future travels as they’re a lovely couple with lots of interesting stories to tell (If you’re reading Linda, thank you again and please do send us an email at some point to keep in touch). After the four days parked up we still had 75% battery charge left, proving to us that we can stay stationary for a while with no problems power-wise. We used the service point in the rain and with a strong wind blowing across the beach, just managing to get it done and to keep hold of the doors. The rest of the group were heading into Figueira or Montemor-o-Velho where there was a big market on the Wednesday but with the weather forecast being bad we decided to skip them for now as we didn’t think we’d enjoy it or manage to see much in the rain and instead started making progress south.

- Matt

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