We started week 18 with a good sleep before heading off to Batalha and a convenient (and good) aire for a service stop. The small town seems to be set up entirely around an Abbey of St Maria which the bit we saw was a bit plain and dull… So off to Leiria which was a tad disappointing – a hilltop castle and some good views but too much hustle and bustle, so finally for the day off to Fatima where there is an important religious basilica with square – not as impressive as St Peters but impressive nevertheless with many pilgrims there. Also impressively there was another good aire for the night. TomTom was on form for the day – routing us through back roads and villages that weren’t signed but were very interesting (and quiet) – so worth getting off the main roads to see.
In the morning we were delayed somewhat with eMails (see – its not all play!) – and we set off late to Tomar parking outside Convento de Cristo. Whilst this looked dull from the outside, rarely for us we paid to get in and the inside was mightily impressive and well worth a tour – some amazing stonework and no doubt much more restoration due (UNESCO). After a tour we went round Tomar town with nice park and small narrow streets with some very nice views over the castle, aqueduct and park. Tomar had a lovely feel to it and we’d probably stayed but as we’ve got to get back to UK we headed further north to Coimbra where we found their new aire and went for a walk along the river where there were loads of people enjoying the modern facilities. Including us who had a few beers and some food, all pleasantly served by a “Carlsburg Waitress”. (See our Denmark trip if you don’t know what I mean!)
The next day we had a nice bike ride followed by a walk around Coimbra which is a lovely place and appears to be a cross between Budapest, Lisbon and Cambridge. After getting back we met up with some new friends Jeff and Sue who we previously met in week 10 on this trip in France. They’ve been back to UK and were back in Europe and kindly brought an emergency supply of Bourbon biscuits. Thanks! They also brought along their friend Dot who was very badly bruised after falling off her mountain bike – reminding us to buy some safety gear before our course… After a nice BBQ and many bottles of wine we were kindly offered another driveway and fresh tap to use when we pass their house in the UK – thanks guys!
We shared tips then realised we’ve actually only got 11 days left before we need to be back in UK, a trip sadly cut short due to my parents wanting most of their garage, dining room and loft back. How selfish eh?! Worked out well tough as within minutes of each other I got two IT consulting jobs lined up which I need to fit in very early in case other projects come of them. So looks like our brief spell in the UK will be busy.
Leaving Coimbra we continued to avoid all motorways and headed to Aveiro which is supposed to be the Venice of Portugal. Well it was nice enough for lunch and a wander, and the cemetery near the town has some spectacular graves and modern-day private tombs. But nowhere near the Wow factor of the real Venice. From there to Ovar which has interesting tiled buildings, nice to drive around but with too many dubious characters in the car park we headed to Furadouro – a small seaside town near Ovar which has a nice beach and is nice enough out of seasons for a nights wild camping and to allow us to sort our schedule which is starting to look tight….
On recommendation from Jeff n Sue we headed to Porto for a couple of days and a campsite (€10) which allowed us to do some washing and chores, where the main centre was a 12km easy bike ride in which we did both days. It would have been nicer if pedestrians didn’t walk on the cycle path, or let their kids run in front of us etc etc. But that aside, Porto was a lovely city to visit. Very picturesque and photogenic. We had planned to take the tourist bus around the city, but after getting a brochure and route map decided to walk the main route instead! (More money for ice-creams!). We had a very good exploration of the main roads and backways of both sides of the city and walked top n bottom of the Pont dom Luis bridge – most impressive – though your stomach turns when you look down the cracks from the top!
We also had a tour and taste of the Sandeman port caves as this is a brand previously owned by a company I worked for. Very interesting and good value shop, but nevertheless I still don’t like Port!! Could taste the stuff all day – only quenched with beer.
For the final day of week 18 we left Porto and headed via Bom Jesus which is an impressive church with huge stairway (or funicular) to get to – front cover of our Portugal book). Worth a visit and lunch break and not much else – though eat after as some of the statues on the way up look like they fell out of a horror movie (statue with water pouring from eyes, ears, nose etc…).
We continued up via walking round a couple of the nice villages till we got to Monção on the Portugal/Spain border where we decided to stay the night. According to one of the locals we’ve been very lucky with the weather (25-30’C every day) – so can’t complain. And we have to admit we’ve enjoyed Portugal very much – especially away from the touristy beachy areas – and of course off peak season.
See our final week, week 19 HERE