Thursday, 14 August 2008

The Iberian tour continues...

Wind- and Kite-surfing at Guincho Beach, near Lisbon, Portugal

Yet another age, I know. We're now back in Valencia - and for the final week or so at that, sadly. Well, the tour throughout Portugal and northern Spain continued through to the end of July, though internet connections became few and far between, hence the lack of posts for the past month or so (again!). Now I'll attempt a rapid hurtle through the final few weeks of the camping and sailing tour, and if time permits, a quick update on the story in Valencia. Whilst the blogs have sadly dwindled, I have been getting my full money's worth over at Flickr where our exploits continue to be recorded as digital images for time immemorial. They're reasonably neatly pigeon-holed into chapters throughout the year - I think there's around 3,500 images up there so far and the number increases by the day.

So to our grand tour, where I left you, cliffhanger-like, near Lisbon in Portugal. The beach at Guincho was stunning. Force 5-6 winds and great scenes of wind-and kite-surfers going about their business - morning, noon and night - sometimes even after dark.

The fairytale palaces of Sintra - how did they get it all the way up there?

We travelled from our Orbitur Guincho campsite slightly inland to the beautiful - and very English-looking - town of palaces that is Sintra the following day. You've probably heard the old line about how many people can one stuff into a Mini, telephone box ("What are telephone boxes, Daddy?", our children might ask!!) etc. Well, to stretch the cliché, how many palaces can one stuff into a town that is scarcely larger than a village? Well, we still don't know the answer precisely, but it is certainly more than a few, and we spent a day hiking through a number of them. Quite a fascinating place where royals and noblemen (and women) built their country retreats over the centuries. The views across the mountains from each of these magical buildings were quite something and well worth the visit.

On the beach near A Coruña, in a boat that was never designed to float!

And so, onwards towards the northern Portuguese border with Spain. We departed Guincho and headed northwards via a lunch stopover in the beautiful university city of Coimbra, just south of Porto. What a fantastic lunch, though with sweltering heat hitting the early 40°s, we decided, regrettably, it was not a day for lots of outdoor sightseeing, and we jumped back into the air-conditioned car and upwards past Porto to the town of Viana do Castelo, where we stayed for a further couple of nights before passing into northern Spain and the region of Galicia to meet our friends, Rick, Charlie, Ellie and Joe at a campsite in the titchy village of Santa Marta, just outside the city of A Coruña. Though we managed a nice day on the beach, the weather moved steadily down from the early 40°s to the early 20°s and a few cloudy and occasionally rainy days ensued. Still, despite the grey skies, we braved a trip to the tiny fishing port of Malpica and managed to convince a local restaurateur to permit us to spend the entire day eating and drinking on his terrace whilst the kids played on the beach directly in front of us. We must have been good for business in the circumstances as, despite the changeable weather our true British hardy spirit attracted a number of other fellow customers to brave the elements and order their lunch on the terrace too. The bars and cafés either side of us appeared empty throughout the day, whilst our for our chosen hostelry it was bonanza day!

A relaxing boat trip around A Coruña with Rick, Charlie, Liz, Joe and Chris

Another pleasurable day was spent in and around A Coruña. I've always been interested in visiting this great port as it seems to me to be the destination of choice for yachtsmen who cross to Spain from the UK, and is also often on the well-worn race circuit for various round-the-world yachting events.

Ayuntamiento (town hall) in A Coruña

Having been urged by everyone we know and by every guidebook ever written, we set off to Santiago de Compostela for its annual festival day. We decided that the city would be overrun with tourists and that rather than taking the car, we chose to drive into the middle of nowhere and catch the train. Despite numerous maps of the area - most of which were a work of fiction - we managed to find the 'one-horse' village of Meirama where we lay in wait for the daily train to Santiago

The train from nowhere to the 'aquarium' city of Santiago de Compostela

Sadly, the day was a real washout in every sense of the word. Not only had most of the festival finished (the fireworks having taken place the night before), but there was a political rally which appeared to be a heavily-policed fight between communists and whatever flavour of fascism is currently in vogue in Galicia. Added to which, we then experienced the heaviest rainfall of the year, so what was planned as a long day out turned out to be a severely curtailed event, though we did manage to get into the city's famous cathedral in between services.

With more than a week of camping to go including the final five days in Asturias, sadly the blog will have to pause for breath (or at least, I need to go to bed!), so until next time when I hope to conclude the trip and get up to date in Valencia...