Friday 3rd January 2014 – Figueira de Foz to Parque de Gaia (92 miles)
Remember that hit record by Franki Valli & The Four Seasons back in the 70’s, “Oh What A Night……..“, well it was certainly that, it wasn’t so much the constant rain but the severe buffeting of the van by a very strong wind, so much so that at 01:30am we were so concerned that we got up and moved the van to a different part of the car park and pointed ‘Big Momma’s’ nose into the wind. It was then that we noticed that at some point after returning from our walk along the promenade we had been joined by two other Motorhomes. We then managed to get some sleep but we awoke to it still ‘bucketing’ down so in the words of that other more recent hit song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go Now ?“, the decision was made for us, it was pointless sitting in the van all day just looking out of the windows at the pouring rain, we may as well get a few more miles eaten up. So, Porto here we come !
We were not keen on using a campsite, it wasn’t the cost, as over the last twelve weeks we have hardly made a dent in our ‘accommodations’ budget and the ACSI site we had been looking at would have only cost us €14 a night with the discount card. We have had no problems parking ‘Big Momma’ at any Wild Camping location or indeed on any of the ‘Aires’ that we have used, however, our problems with getting on and off pitches have always been when we have used the Campsites. We had marked a ‘Motorhome Stopover’ on our map, about Eight miles outside of Porto, at ‘Parque Biologico Gaia’. It advertised all the essential Motorhome Services with the added bonus of electricity and with Publuc Transport nearby all for the grand sum of €4 a night, this sounded pretty good so another decision made and ‘Snoopy’ was duly programmed to take us there but not via ‘Motorways’. So we waved a damp goodbye to ‘Figueira de Foz’, we will save this place, along with ‘Lisbon’ for another future trip.
We were originally going to start our ‘Big Adventure’ by travelling this Coast but in the opposite direction, however, there had been a bad weather front that hit this Northern part of Portugal and Spain and so we gave it a miss. Since then, and along with many other more Northerly parts of Europe, there has been a lot of rain. We saw much evidence of this as we drove for many miles through numerous villages and towns, rivers had burst their banks and flooded the surrounding land, not just fields but many gardens of residential properties in the towns and villages. The drainage on these Portuguese roads is not good at the best of times, but up here it was like wading through rivers. There were quite a few occasions when ‘Big Momma’s’ six wheels created tidal waves and it was only through good fortune that their were no pedestrians nearby as they would have quite literally have been soaked from head to toe !!
But the rain subsided, the sky brightened, the ‘river roads’ disappeared and whether it is because this is the major road up to Porto (IC2), other than the ‘toll motorway’ that is, but in the main the road was very good and well surfaced, with some noticeable bumpy exceptions through towns and villages !! That was until we got within seven miles of our destination when ‘Snoopy’ instructed us to turn off the rather comfortable road we had been travelling along and take a back road. Well I have to use the term ‘road’ but how this could have been described as such I really do not know ! There was no Tarmac, it was literally small cobbles that must have rattled every nut, bolt, screw, door and cupboard hinge inside and out of ‘Big Momma’ !!! There were points that this ‘road’ narrowed just sufficient for the width of one vehicle and there were several points where it was just a matter of ‘go for it’ and hope nothing is coming in the opposite direction !! Shazza had just made the comment ‘Surely this is not a proper road‘ ? when a local bus passed us travelling in the opposite direction. We were relieved that we had not met that a few minutes earlier !! In reality, we had only travelled on this ‘road‘ for a couple of miles before getting back on to proper ‘terra fermer‘ but it felt an eternity.
We did not have a clue what this ‘Parque Biologico‘ was but as we approached it was pretty well signposted right to the front entrance where there was also the familiar ‘blue and white’ Motorhome sign reflecting that it had ‘Motorhome Services’. We drove in but could not see any further ‘signage‘ indicating where the ‘Motorhome Parking was located. I parked up and ‘Shazza’ was dispatched to the modern building which was the park entrance and reception area. She returned a little glum faced. Yes there was a Motorhome Parking area, but because of the size of ‘Big Momma’ we would require a larger ‘pitch’ and that would cost €6 and not the €4, additionally there was a charge of €4 per Adult, although that did include entry into the ‘Parque‘ as well !! so our anticipated €4 nigh halt would actually cost us €14. Shazza suggested that as it was the same price as the Campsite that we should move on and locate the site which was a further 8 miles away. After just driving 92 miles without a break I suggested that we spend the night here and re-assess our options in the morning, so she returned to the reception to book us in for the one night. When she returned she told me to drive around to a locked gate where a ‘man’ would be waiting to let us in. Sure enough, there was a very young ‘man’ stood at the gate, he told us that we were on pitch No.8 and he would meet us there. Well !! this was a very pleasant surprise, the were Eleven individual pitches, each separated by Eight foot high hedges, hard standing which was longer than ‘Big Momma’ and with enough grass area behind to put out tables and chairs, had the weather been better of course ! The pitch was wide enough to have wound out the awning and each pitch had its own 16 amp Electric Hook Up (EHU) point. There was no other Motorhome on any of the other pitches, we had this place to ourselves, and what’s more, we were secured behind a large sliding metalled gate for which the ‘man’ gave us a key to allow ourselves to come and go as we pleased. WiFi was available at no additional cost in the reception building, a couple of minutes walk away and inside their was a Cafe/Snack Bar which was open until the ‘Parque‘ closed at 6pm. However, the reception was 24-hour manned and so I could use the free WiFi after the ‘Parque‘ had officially closed and the ‘day visitors‘ had left.
Once we had settled in and had a coffee and a sandwich we decided to take a walk around our surroundings. The ‘Motorhome Service Point’ had good access, fairly new in appearance and very clean and well maintained, at least when we left we would have ‘Empty and Full’ on-board facilities, as appropriate, and with the Electricity all our ‘devices’ could at least be fully charged. We walked to the Reception building and made sure that we could connect to the WiFi then we decided to take a walk around the ‘Parque‘ itself. What an amazing place ! Okay, it was not a Zoo, although it did have a variety of Animals and Birds and we do have similar places in the UK, but this was quite well laid out, no two-minute stroll either, you could spend a good half a day or more here, we did it in around two hours, well it was beginning to get a bit chilly !! The other great thing was that the bus to ‘Porto‘ stopped just a short distance from the ‘Parque‘ and they ran until late at night and over the weekend. Shazza had taken a distinct liking to this place and our ‘overnight’ stop had now extended to possibly three or four days !! Well we were now a bit ahead on our time schedule after travelling around 300 miles in the last three days ! After our walk we had a coffee in the Cafe and for the first time in seven days we had an opportunity to check our Emails and conduct an update on the weather, it wasn’t looking good for the next five days !! However, we decided that we would just take each day as it arrived, we knew the weather would deteriorate as we drove North, we had wet weather clothing and walking boots so as long as the wet stuff wasn’t of the torrential variety we could still get out and see Porto.
Saturday 4th January
Well, first things first, there were no dogs barking but instead we had the sounds of a ‘Brass Band’, we did not know whether it was some sort of function or just band practice but it sounded pretty good to me ! When that stopped, the rain started, which turned into ‘hail stones’ which then turned into high winds, thunder and lightning, deep joy !!
We awoke to the sounds of rain, no hailstones, no wind, no thunder and lightning just pretty heavy rain, our planned trip into ‘Porto’ today was not looking promising ! After a lazy start, and in between the downpours, I walked to the Cafe/Snack Bar and utilised the good ‘free’ WiFi to finally ‘back-up’ my iPad, I needed to retrieve/transfer the photographs I had taken on my iPhone from ‘the cloud’ so that I could insert them into my ‘pre-drafted’ blog posts and then get them published. As you will have no doubt have noticed from reading Posts 31 & 32, I achieved my mission ! Then the rain stopped and the sun came out, had it have done this earlier then Shazza would have had me out on her ‘Porto Expedition‘ and my ‘posts‘ would still be waiting to be published, so for once the inclement weather had done me a favour.
We had lunch first and then at 2pm, with the bus timetable the reception staff had kindly provided, we made our way the very short distance to the bus stop. According to our timetable the bus to ‘Porto’ was scheduled to arrive at 2:45pm, but it failed to arrive ! We decided to sit and wait, knowing what the Portuguese roads were like, how on earth anything can keep to a schedule is a miracle ! Whilst we were sat waiting, two ‘ladies’ appeared from nowhere and started talking to us, they handed me a leaflet and I could see that they were ‘Jehova’s Witnesses’, so it isn’t just house doors they knock on, they even try and recruit people who are sat at bus stops, business must be bad !! I looked at them, shrugged my shoulders, a very useful art that I had learnt from my ‘French’ Motorhoming Comprade’s, and said “Sorry, No Comprende, Inglese”. Did that work, No it didn’t ! They still tried to gabble on at me in Portuguese, but using that much loved ‘English’ solution to defeating the language barrier, they spoke even louder !! This time I needed a different ploy ? I motioned that I was waiting for a bus, I shrugged my shoulders and then showed them my bus timetable with the time the bus was due, then I pointed to my watch indicating that it was late !! Both ladies then pointed to their watches showing the bus would arrive at 3pm and then they said ‘Porto’, in unison, and pointed to 3:30pm on my watch !! I thanked them and they walked off, the ploy had worked and being good ladies of the church who would never tell lies, the bus arrived at 3pm and we arrived in Porto thirty minutes later just as they had predicted !!
It was still dry when we arrived at the bus station but it was mighty windy and quite cold ! Shazza had read our ‘Tourist Bible’ so we knew that the ‘Port Houses’ were on the opposite side of the river to where we were. ‘Porto’ stands on one bank and ‘De Gaia’, where the Port Houses were, stood on the other. Porto also sits high up on a hill and wends it way down to the quayside, it is a flipping steep hill and reminded me of the film ‘Bullet’ where there was a car chase down the very long steep slopes of ‘San Francisco’. However, there is a bridge that spans the river, this is a two-tier bridge, on the ‘lower’ level is the road and a footpath, on the upper level is the ‘metro line’ and a footpath. So we decided to take the ‘high road’ across to save the long walk down the long steep hill. The views of the river with ‘Porto’ on one side and ‘De Gaia’ with its Port Houses on the other was quite spectacular, very windy and bitterly cold, but well worth the experience. Once across the other side we still needed to get down to the Port Houses, we had a choice, take a long steep walk or pay €5 each and take the cable car, we opted for the latter, the views were amazing and the motion of the wind on the ‘carriage’ was interesting !! Perhaps we will walk back taking the ‘lower’ road across the bridge !! All of the Port Houses were there, ‘Sandemans’, ‘Dows’, ‘Cockburns’ to name but a few, they were all open but only for ‘tastings’ and of course ‘purchases’ but no tours today !! We elected to go to a Port House that we had never heard of before, primarily because the young lady at the cable car ticket office had provided us with a ‘free tastings’ voucher, one ‘free’ tasting each at the ‘Quevedo‘ Port House. We had a choice of Ports to sample, ‘White’, ‘Rose’, ‘Ruby’ and ‘Tawny’. Both Shazza and I enjoyed a nice glass of ‘Ruby’ port occasionally, we still had an unopened bottle of ‘Cockburns Ruby’ in ‘Big Momma’, however, we had never tried the other three so Shazza elected for the ‘Rose’ whilst I tried the ‘White’. Neither of us much cared for the ‘White’, it wasn’t unpleasant but it just didn’t taste like ‘Port’. There was a special offer on, surprise, surprise !! 4 bottles for just €29 (£25) well that really was a bargain and come on you cannot come to Porto and not buy a bottle of Port or four can you ? We didn’t want one of each as we didn’t want the white and we already had a bottle of Ruby. I have to be honest, before today I didn’t know the difference, apart from the slight colour difference, between Ruby and Tawny Port and had never tried the Tawny. I learnt that Ruby is matured for 3 years (six years if it is the standard ‘Reserve’) and Tawny for 4 years (eight years if it is the standard ‘reserve’), you can of course get ‘older’ ones at ‘bigger’ prices !! Anyway, having the cheek of the devil I told the young lady who had provided us with our ‘free’ one tasting each that I wanted to purchase four bottles, two of ‘Rose’ but not sure whether to have two ‘Tawny’ instead of the ‘Ruby’, she gave us a glass of ‘Ruby’ and a glass of ‘Tawny’ to make a comparison, ‘free of charge’ of course. We then informed her that we would take the ‘Tawny’, and very nice it was too !!
After being warmed up by both the nice log fire that was burning in the Port House and the couple of free ‘tasters’ it was time to explore further. There were a few pavement Cafés open but too cold to sit out so we went across to the quayside. There are lots of poles which advertise the names of the Port Houses, then there are old wooden sailing craft moored up with wooden Port Barrels on them. In the summer you can go on the boat from the Port House of your choice and sample a glass, a bit of a tourist gimmick but a nice way to while a half an hour or so in the summer. We walked back to the bridge we had first walked across, but this time we would return via the ‘low road’ and we walked along the ‘Ribeira’, the quayside on the opposite bank to the Port Houses. This was certainly the ‘Tourist’ bit, lots of pavement Cafés and Restaurants, some of which were occupied by hardy souls braving the stiff chill of the wind as they drank their ‘Cappuchino’, glass of ‘Vino Tinto’ or ‘Bock’ beer. Not too many drinking ‘Port’ we noticed !! We had decided that we would eat out before returning to ‘Parque Biologico‘ so we spent some time just wandering through the many alleyways looking for a ‘Menu’ that would tantalise us to go inside. Now I don’t know whether we are just getting hard to please but nothing leapt out at us, most of it was what we would class as ‘Tourist Food’, Chicken, Burgers, Fish, Steak all with ‘Chips & Salad’, No Thanks ! We were just beginning to think that it would be a mixed Cheeseboard and Salamis back at ‘A La Big Momma‘ when we came across what looked from the outside like a very upmarket Coffee & Pattissere, there was a ‘waiter’ stood at the door, dressed in the good old neat Black and White water sort of attire so we went inside. Once seated we were offered a menu, it contained some very nice ‘typical’ Portuguese fare ! Sharon opted for the ‘Francesinha‘, a mighty doorstep of Steak, Sausage and Ham between toasted bread, covered with melted cheese and a peppery tomato and beer sauce and it came with French Fries and washed down with a glass of beer !! I was rather boring, I have developed a taste for the ‘Iberico’ (Black Pig Pork) and had thickly cut slices with French Fries, savoured with a rather large glass of ‘Vino Tinto’ !! The waiters were great, really friendly, not the ‘I’m working a large tip’ sort of friendly. One of the waiters was telling us how he had lived in England about 8 years ago, he had lived in London, Oxford and Canterbury and strangely enough he remembers it because of the warm sunshine !! Well it was Eight years ago ! Although this was a nice establishment, not a Snack Bar, they did have a large screen TV in the corner, this had not been on when we entered and we were not the only customers, however, shortly after ordering our meals, the ‘English’ waiter, for that is how we referred to him when distinguishing him from the ‘others’, turned on the TV to the ‘Live’ Premiership Football match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, I am still not sure whether it was for our benefit or his ?
Fed and watered, and nice and warm again, we stepped outside and realised that it was now dark. Strange how things don’t look as familiar in the dark as they did in daylight !! I am probably over exaggerating just a little when I say ‘dark’, unlike me I know ! This was Porto after all, we were in a busy square with shops, restaurants, street lights, festive decorations still lit up, vehicles moving in all directions and of course people milling around everywhere, it was hardly pitch black. We did need the aid of the iPad street mapping ‘App’ though as we had lost our sense of direction and we needed to find our way back to the bus station. Believe me, this was not like bus stations you find in most large towns and cities, usually well signposted, no, this was down a side street and had no more than a handful of bus lanes. We found it and waited patiently, our bus was due to leave at 7pm and unlike our transport ‘inbound’, this one arrived and left on time ! All the way in to town we had picked out Landmarks so that on our return trip we would know that we were on the right bus, fairly logical thing to do wouldn’t you say ? But it helps if you can see these Landmarks in the dark !! We managed to just see our stop a nano-second before the bus sailed past it, I guess when the driver heard us press the ‘bell button’ it was like being back on his driving test, well it was nearly an ‘Emergency Stop’ and that man eating his cream cake probably should have waited until he got home to eat it anyway !!
Sunday 5th January
Contrary to what the weather forecast had predicted, we had a rain free afternoon in Porto. However, it had rained again all through the night, fortunately we were on a nice Hardstanding pitch. We had not planned to do much today so we enjoyed a longer than usual lay in and there was no sound of rain on the roof which was a bit of a surprise as we are supposed to have none stop rain right through until Thursday ! I don’t mind when the weather man gets it wrong in our favour. Shazza caught up with some internal domestic duties whilst I did routine ‘under the bonnet’ checks. We spent some time trying to plan our ‘escape route’ for tomorrow, I certainly did not want to drive through Porto, I had witnessed them already but from the relative safety if a bus window. Porto is not the easiest city to escape from, driving that is, if you are heading North. We had two choices, take the Motorway or head South East and go the long way around. We were still not sure about using the ‘Portuguese Automated Toll Routes’, nobody seemed quite sure whether we needed to pay for them in advance, usually a Post Office or Fuel Station or whether we could pay by Credit Card or Cash ? The last thing I needed was to get stuck on one so decision made, it may be a longer route but go around we will ! We have only ten days left and tomorrow we head just over the border back into Spain to a town called ‘Tui‘, well that is the plan, whether we actually get there though may depend on whether ‘Snoopy’ elects to take us on one of her ‘Magical Mystery Tours’ whilst avoiding Motorways and Toll Routes………..