Monday 30th December – Porto Covo to Coruche (103 miles)
We had both slept well and awoke a little before eight thirty. It was chilly but not cold and the temperature gauge showed that it was 9.2 degrees(c) inside the van, however, I did put the heating on for half an hour to just warm it up a little. The sun was still trying to force its way up into the sky but, as yet, it had no real warmth to it and the long stems of bamboo canes that I could see out of the galley window were waving quite frantically, which reflected that there was a strong breeze blowing this morning.
We had a mission today ! We had noticed in other towns that we had visited on our travels, that some of the restaurants that were opening for the New Year Eve festivities had some sort of advertising posted up on their windows and doors. We needed to try and find one in Porto Covo and hope that it wasn’t already fully booked ! We needed our fleeces on as the wind certainly had a bite to it, the sun was up but still as not radiating too much warmth. It was a pleasant enough walk into the once small fishing village, although those days were long gone now, Porto Covo was awash with both ‘holiday rentals’ and what looked like ‘summer homes’ for the ‘city dwellers’. However, it was now winter and the windows all had their wooden shutters firmly closed, and even though we remembered that on Mondays ‘Portugal’ was closed, this felt like a ghost town !! Our ‘Tourist Bible’ calls this place ‘Lisbon by the sea’, a holiday resort. Porto Covo is very small, it does not take long to walk around it and during that walk we found no evidence that this town would be celebrating the New Year ! We found the Coastal Path and so walked part of it back to where Big Momma was parked.
It made us smile as this is not just a Coastal walk, it is a ‘fitness’ walk and there are sign posts at stages along its path where you stop and do a small exercise, not that we followed their suggested guidance !!
As you may imagine, the views of the large Atlantic breakers from the cliff edge are really quite awesome, on another visit we could stay here quite comfortably for perhaps a week or more. However, we did want to celebrate the New Year, and although we, well me really, had initially had the nice romantic notion of finding a secluded beach, having a BBQ, light a ‘fir cone and log’ fire and see in the New Year. This may have been great in theory, but in reality it is bloody cold at night, too cold to be sat outside, even with a log fire burning. No, what was required was somewhere warm, ideally somewhere where the food has been prepared and cooked for you, where the drinks are flowing and even perhaps some sort of musical entertainment is provided, to see us up to the ‘chimes of midnight’. This sounds very much like a Restaurant job to me ! Strange when I look back over the last couple of years, that was when we actually owned and lived in a house !! we didn’t really celebrate New Year, the TV was usually quite boring, same old programmes, same old films shown year in and year out and we certainly didn’t do the party scene. To be quite frank, apart from enjoying the fact that it was another day off work, it was also the day that marked the end of Christmas and generally when Shazza’s festive spirit totally disappeared and she wanted all the decorations, including the tree, taken down, packed away and stored back in the loft for another fifty-one weeks, bah humbug !!
Shazza stated that she would have been quite content to have stayed in the van, let’s face it we had enough of the fizzy stuff to last her a few ‘hours’ and there was plenty of food and other ‘nibbles’. But we were on an adventure, we were in a foreign country and it would also be a kind of Anniversary for us. Tomorrow, on New Years Eve, Shazza and I had our ‘first date’, so tomorrow on New Years Eve we would have been together for nine years !! I also wanted to see how the Portuguese celebrated New Year and, I wanted to be part of it. But New Year’s Eve was ‘tomorrow’ ! Not only did we have no idea where we were actually going to be yet, but at this late stage would we actually find a Restaurant that was both open and more importantly still had space available for another two people !!
We got back to ‘Big Momma’, after our short Coastal path walk we had discussed the options and agreed that we would move on. We had a cup of coffee whilst looking at our road map and decided that we needed a town of aa reasonable size, ideally not closed for winter. What we needed was an ordinary non-tourist sort of town, typically Portuguese town and one that had Restaurants that were open. It would also need to have some sort of parking area to accommodate a rather large tag axle Motorhome, surely that wasn’t asking too much was it ? We did consider trying Lisbon but discounted it. Being the capital city we would expect that much like London, most accommodations, including ‘Aires’ and Campsites would by now already be pretty full. However, we did Find a town in our trusty ‘Aires’ guides, a town called ‘Coruche’, it was inland so off the normal ‘winter tourist trail’, although with a ‘fully serviced ‘Aire’ which was ‘Free’, it was probably a good stopover route for the summer visitors. But this town was also One Hundred and Four miles away, so we still needed to get there, to park up and then go on the hunt for a New Year hostelry so best we got a ‘wiggle’ on really !!
The route actually took us on our first ever Motorway on this trip, it was not a toll motorway either, and for what seems a age now I was able to get up to the breakneck speed of 60mph and be in sixth gear. We even saw ‘those ladies’ we had been told about, you know, the ones that stand on the side of the road looking for ‘customers‘, and as we were reliably informed, they were not selling oranges !! We had to laugh, they didn’t have to stand, they had actually had white plastic chairs to sit on !! These are like those ‘Ladies of the Night’, but this lot do not do the ‘night work’, too damn cold for that and the last thing they need are ‘chapped lips’ !! We have also been highly amused at the Portuguese standard of driving. Now we have witnessed this many times, but as we were now on one of our more longer journeys we were able to confirm that what we had previously witnessed on wasn’t a rarity, it was actually the normal standard !! Let me give you a couple of examples, they sit right on your bumper, you move over and indicate to them that it is clear to overtake, but they remain on your bumper. You approach a blind bend, and now they decide to overtake you !! OR, you are approaching a blind bend when suddenly a car, van, lorry, comes in the opposite direction on ‘YOUR’ side of the road OR, …………. Never mind I think you get the picture. As for the actual roads during this particular drive, well what can I say, some were okay but the majority were again so worn out that the contents of every cupboard ‘jingled and jangled’ constantly !! If we do manage to find some New Years musical entertainment we hope it is ‘Jazz‘, we have had just about enough of the Portuguese ‘Shake, Rattle & Roll’
We arrived at ‘Coruche’, it was a nice looking town on a river. ‘Snoopy’ took us to the allotted place, although the ‘Aire’ was well signposted as you entered the town. We drove into a ‘walled & fenced’ compound, which was adjacent to the bus station and next to a ‘Lidl’ supermarket. My first thought was that it was the car park for the bus station, but it was completely empty of any vehicles ? It also looked a bit messy with Polythene bags strewn everywhere, but as we drove in there were two ladies, wearing the obligatory council safety jackets, pushing a mobile dustcart and a pair of brooms, they were clearing up all the rubbish. We double checked our ‘Motorhome Aires Guide’ and then the ‘penny dropped’. This ‘Aire’ is closed to Motorhomes on the last Saturday of the month because it is Market Day. The Saturday just gone was the last one in the month, so these ladies were cleaning up after the market !! Apart from it being in a walled and fenced compound this ‘Aire’ was also well lit, it had sufficient parking for 100 Motorhomes but we were the only occupants. The Service Point, at the back of the parking area was clean and in a very good condition, and all of this for absolutely ‘no charge’ whatsoever !!
Shazza made us both a coffee and a sandwich, then we made our way into the town in an attemp to seek out a venue for tomorrow. The town centre was only a mere five minute walk away and it had a nice feel to it. Their were speakers attached to lamp posts throughout the town and Christmas tunes were being played, not at an intrusively loud volume but just sufficient to create a lovely ambience. There were plenty of people around, some sat in cafés, others shopping, but this town, albeit we are in Portugal, albeit it is a ‘Monday’, it was definitely ‘open for business’ and it actually had a ‘lived in’ feel to it. What soon became apparent was, ‘Aire’ or not, this did not look or feel like a tourist town, no ‘tourist tat’ shops, no ‘full English breakfasts’ in fact there were no signs or menu boards translated into English or any other language other than Portuguese. We discovered that the town has two parts, a modern bit, then walk up and through a pedestrianised area and you came into the ‘historical’ part of the town and it was absolutely beautiful. There were no gregarious ‘ornate’ or ‘grande’ residences, cathedrals etc. a few churches and of course the Town Hall and then cobbled roads, cobbled footpaths, and cobbled streets that ran uphill. Many of the houses and other buildings were old but very well maintained and we just sauntered casually through the streets and enjoyed this very ‘unpretentious’ little town on the river.
Remember that word ‘Fate’ that I may just have mentioned once or twice in previous posts ? Well it happened again ! We came to the end of the town and came across the ‘one and only’ Restaurant that we had seen advertising something for the New Year Celebrations. We had a look around but it was all closed up. We decided that perhaps we should walk along some other streets to see if we could find any other Restaurant advertising for the New Year. But just as we were about to walk away, a girl, who we later learnt was called ‘Ines‘ said, in Portuguese, that the Restaurant was closed. I asked he if she spoke any ‘English’ and she said that she didn’t (well she shrugged her shoulders in Portuguese). Anyway, I pointed to the poster and gesticulated in my best ‘Portuguese’, in an attempt to say ‘Will this restaurant be open tonight’ ? She beckoned us to follow her around the corner and she unlocked a door to an office, this as it happened was the administrative office of the ‘Restaurante O Farnel‘. Between her speaking no English and no proper Portuguese, but with the aid of ‘Google Translator’ on her office computer, we managed to discover that this Restaurant ‘was’ holding a New Years Eve Party, but not here at this venue but at a Farmhouse Restaurant outside of town and it would start at 8pm. We asked if their were any spaces left, she told us that she could book us in, yee hah !! However, how far out of town was this Restaurant ? Would we dare leave ‘Big Momma’ unattended on New Years Eve ? No problem she said, we could take the Motorhome to the farmhouse and we could park it there and sleep in it. She told us to bring the Motorhome to the office at 3pm the following day, she would drive there and we could follow her in her car !! Now, had we have arrived at the Restaurant five minutes earlier, or even five minutes later, we would have missed ‘Ines‘, she would not have seen us looking in the Restaurant window or she would already have been back in the office behind the closed door, ‘Fate’ I am telling you, ‘Fate’ !!
We walked back along the riverbank laughing like mischievous school children. I think partly in disbelief at not only our good fortune in securing a place at a New Years Eve celebration party at such short notice, but with a load of People who probably we will not be able to have any meaningful conversation with, and a menu which we could barely interpret, okay, a slight exaggeration we recognised Prawns, and Pork and ‘Bacalu’ (dried and salted Cod, a Portuguese staple !). This had all the makings of being either a total disaster, or a fantastic New Year Eve celebration, either way, it was certain to be one that we would no doubt remember for a very long time !! Well, this is supposed to be an ‘Adventure’ after all.
Tuesday 31st December 2013 – New Years Eve
What a peaceful nights sleep ! Here we are parked up adjacent to the main bus station and next door to a Supermarket, but there was no noise whatsoever, apart from the rain on the van roof that is, but NO dogs barking, absolute bliss !! It had been a nice warm night with no need for any heating and we awoke to an internal van temperature of 14 degrees(c). The weather forecast had shown that it would rain all day today, and into the night, and during the following morning on New Year’s Day, so that may put an end to any planned fireworks, although I have to admit we saw no reference to fireworks !! The weather lived up to the first part, it had rained quite heavily during the night and was still falling, quite heavy !! I was hoping that we would get a small respite as prior to moving to our ‘Farmhouse Venue’ for the night’s festivities I did need to do the essentials with the on-board facilities. We did not know the dress code for the evening, so we had to ‘dig out’ our ‘posh clothes’ just in case ! If I parked in a position whereby I could see the other party goers as they arrived, the we could always do a quick change again if we were dressed a bit too formally ?
Shazza and I have both made many observations about Portugal during this trip, but one thing that has really been noticeable is the lack of youths loitering on the streets at night ! That doesn’t mean that they do not exist as we have seen the visual evidence that they do exist, namely the ‘Graffiti’ sprayed onto walls of buildings, bridges, bus shelters. However, we have never felt unsafe at night, either walking in the local towns or villages or indeed when we have been parked up in the van. We do not know the reason for this, is it parental discipline whereby they all have to be back at home by a certain time ? Are the punishments so severe if they do get caught committing anti-social behaviour ? Whatever the reasons, the deterrents imposed or just the Portuguese culture, long may it continue.
I am pleased to say that for once, my usually accurate weather forecast got it wrong !! It stopped raining around lunchtime and brightened up and although the sun was still unable to break through the carpet of thick cloud, the external temperature rose to a very pleasant 16 degrees(c) and the Solar Panels were trickle feeding the leisure batteries at a rate of 1amp per hour. We just lazed around in the van for the rest of the day, although to prevent cabin fever from setting in I did venture outside and cleaned my cab windows and mirrors, then I went back inside and cleaned the internal cab windows and had a bit of a dust of the dashboard. Shazza listened to music on her iPad whilst reading a book, these people who can multi-task eh ! We did the necessary services on the van and then drove to the office of the ‘Restaurante Fornel‘ where ‘Ines‘ was waiting for us as she said she would. We followed her car and upon arrival she told us that we could park anywhere. We could see the natural parking area for the cars, so we chose a spot out of the way, but within easy ‘staggering’ distance of the function room. We locked the van and ‘Ines‘ took us inside to where a handful of people were still busy preparing the tables. An elderly man came and shook our hands, he pointed towards a lovely big log fire and intimated that we could go and warm our hands, we didn’t, but it already reflected and confirmed the friendliness of the Portuguese people. ‘Ines‘ explained to him that we were ‘Inglese‘ and did not speak ‘Portuguese‘, he smiled and I think he said something like ‘Welcome‘ as he shook our hands again. Then another, much younger man came to where we were stood, he appeared to be responsible for overseeing the setting up of the ‘Banquet Room‘ and he too welcomed us and shook our hands. One of the other men who was setting the tables pointed to us, and then to a table, intimating that would be our table for the night. How did he know who we were ? I checked just in case I had forgotten to take the knotted handkerchief off my head !! Now, I use the term ‘Banquet Room’ for it was quite obvious that this was not going to be a ‘Village Hall’ sort of occasion. The white linen tablecloths overlayed with a burgundy tablecloth, the high back chairs covered in cream linen, the balloons affixed to the roof beams in well regimented rows, this had the visual appearance of a very expensive formal wedding reception. I asked ‘Ines‘ If she knew how many guests were attending the festivities and she told us that their would be Two Hundred and Thirty !! It was a good job that we had brought some ‘posh evening attire’, we were going to need it !! It looked as though, and not for the first time on our travels, that we may just have struck gold, a New Years party to remember for all the right reasons we hope………right Shazza, you see the small knife and fork on the outside, well you use that for …………………….. !!!
We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening just lazing around and took the opportunity of some ‘reflection’ time, which as you know by now, is always best done with ones eyes closed !! However, the time arrived to get our showers and get our ‘party clothes’ on and somewhat nervously make our way to the ‘function’ room. They knew that the ‘Inglese’ couple were joining them and fortunately for us one of the bar men could speak a little ‘English’ and he showed us to our table. It was quite obvious that he had then pointed us out to the waiter and waitress who were designated to look after our table, they too actually spoke a ‘little’ English and they both made a point of coming across to us and stated that if their was anything we needed we only had to ask. Throughout the night they were not ‘over attentive’ but they looked after us exceptionally well and at each course they served to us they explained what it was. We were seated on our own table, but we were not the only ‘couples only’ table. To one side we had a really nice elderly couple, ‘Lucinda and Antonio’, although they spoke absolutely no English whatsoever, and us no Portuguese, except for the very few ‘tourist’ words, we spent most of the night engaged in humerous banter with them via a series of ‘mimes’ and arm movements. On the other side were a younger couple who had arrived a little late and were playing ‘catch up’ with their meal courses, however, we also got talking to them as he spoke very good ‘English’. The word had soon spread that amongst this party community of 230 local Portuguese townsfolk their were two ‘Inglese’ because we had several very nice people approach us who could speak ‘English’ and told us that if we had any problems or needed translations we only had to ask them ! Throughout the night and well into the early hours the amount of people that asked if we were alright and that we were enjoying ourselves was truly remarkable. We have spent many weeks now in Portugal and I have to say that they are an extremely friendly, hospitable and very helpful people and this New Years Party has just reinforced that. They had no reason to check that we were having a good time, we are the ones that are ‘strangers’ in their community and as such it is up to us to have learnt to speak their language and not the other way around. But they are such gracious people that they wanted to make sure that ‘we’ felt comfortable and enjoyed celebrating ‘New Year’ in their company.
Their is just no way that I am going to be able to explain, and do fair justice, to the gastronomic delights served up during the evening, however, The ‘main’ meal, which started around Eight Thirty, comprised of ‘Six Courses’ !! all drinks were inclusive which included ‘soft’ drinks and ‘Spirits’ (served from the bar), but on each table was placed a bottle of ‘red’ or ‘white’ wine, or both if required, a carafe of ‘Orange Juice’ and water if required, these were replaced when empty without any need to ask. The first dish served looked like a small ‘pork pie’ with a mixed salad, in fact the seasoned meat inside was what the ‘British’ would call ‘Chuck Steak’. This was followed by a plate of Fresh Prawns, very large prawns and lots of them, also a plate of Fresh Crab, cooked but served still in its shell, albeit broken into pieces to make getting the gorgeous white meat out, also a bowl of crab ‘Pate’, bread and tostadas. That was followed by creamed ‘Carrot’ soup, then ‘Bacalhau’ (Cod served Portuguese style’) with Chips, followed by Leg of Pork and vegetables, then a choice of Caramelised Fruit or Chocolate Mousse Cake followed by Coffee !! And they were coming around offering ‘seconds’ !!!!
Their was live musical entertainment, ‘Portuguese’ style of course, and now a chance to burn off at least some of those calories. I thought I had chosen my dance partner well ? and as I led ‘Lucinda’ to the dance floor I at least thought that a ‘soft shoe shuffle’ would be just about right. I have called the dance that we did ‘The Dodgem Car Dance’, you dance around with your partner in circles at a great rate of knots, as you do so you just bump into people around you, then you and them go circling off in another direction and you bump into someone else and the same thing happens. This very high tempo ‘dance’ went on for an absolute eternity and ‘Lucinda’ wasn’t half throwing me around the floor and she was only about foureet two inches tall !! When the ‘Bumper Car Dance’ finished, I crawled on my hands and knees back to my table screaming for a ‘medic’ with a bottle of ‘Oxygen’, whilst ‘Lucinda’ just skipped back to hers. When I finally got back to where Shazza was sitting, Lucinda gave me a look of total disgust, muttering under her breath and tutting, I think I overheard her say something like “Youngsters these days, no stamina” !!
Shortly before midnight arrived a bottle of ‘champagne’ was placed on our table, uncorked, along with a bowl of ‘Raisins’ ? The younger of our neighbours seated on the other side of us explained, “At midnight, you make a wish, you then eat Twelve Raisins, Not Eleven or Thirteen he stressed ! But Twelve, then you uncork your champagne and drink it”. We did as instructed and then we were inundated with much shaking of hands and lots of kisses, like the French, No ! Not with tongues !! But two kisses, one on each cheek (Don’t even ask the next question !!).
So, now it would be a matter of finish the champagne, a few more dances perhaps then everyone would slowly start to drift home and retire to bed, wouldn’t they ?
Not here in Portugal, this party was not scheduled to finish until 05:00am !! And just to make sure that people didn’t go hungry to our utter amazement, at 02:00am, just three hours after being stuffed stupid with a six-course meal, the waiters paraded out filling five tables with a ‘Buffet’. This was not egg mayonnaise sandwiches, cheese and pineapple on sticks sort of buffet, this was even more ‘gastronomy’, but I shall just let you salivate looking at the photo’s !!
By 03:30am Shazza and I were stuffed with food and drink and actually quiet ‘knackered’. Of course we could not leave ‘before’ Lucinda and Antonio so we were relieved when they said that they were going home. They asked, via ‘Tina’, another lovely lady who kept checking on us throughout the night that we were alright and having a good time, if we would Email them some of the photographs we had been taking of the festivities. Tina gave us her Email address and said that she would make sure that they received them. The other younger couple we had been chatting with also decided it was time to leave but before doing so he turned to me and said “If your wish does not happen then you must come back here next year and try again”, how nice was that ? More shaking hands and kissing then we waved them off. Lucinda and Antonio gave Shazza and I great big hugs before leaving, it really felt like we were saying goodnight to family. Before we finally made our own exit we were approached by quite a number of other very lovely people that we had spoken with, (or mimed with), during the night and they were all keen to make sure that we had enjoyed our ‘Portuguese’ New Year celebrations with them.
An unscheduled change to our travel plans had brought us to this lovely little town of ‘Coruche’. Fate, and ‘Ines‘ had also played their parts in allowing us to attend this Portuguese New Year celebration. But the very friendly and lovely people of this town had made us so welcome that we will never forget them, or where and how we celebrated the end of 2013 and the start of 2014.
Oh yes, just one more thing…………….HAPPY NEW YEAR !