Saturday, 29 August 2009

He Says- Malagra – Coming home??

28-30 August 2009

Before we left the UK; I knew that the my back tyre would not make it from the UK to Gibraltar, so I asked around on the HUBB if anyone knew a place I could buy one or ship one to and pick it up on route. Well Allison and Andy, (AKA Dakota) not only offer us a place to drop the tyre but to host us as well for a night. The offer itself amazed me. I have not seen someone open their home to a complete strangers in what seems like ever. Over the next several weeks of emails this offer was then extended to a couple of nights.

When we arrived the welcome and hospitality we received was more like meeting with old friends or coming home then like meeting people we have never physically met. We spent the first day with them dealing with the rear tyre and just talking, as well as making plans for an off road ride the following day. The conversation flowed, again, as if we have been friends for many years.
I had to have the rear tyre changed by some one with a machine, as the unplanned replacement in France was made from a hard compound rubber and I think was glued in to place. The work involved in changing something like that was not worth the result (e.g. damage to the rim) or the cost. So we took it to a local tyre place along with Andy’s bike (it needed a new tube). It cost us a lot less then expected.

I was quite excited about the off road ride, as I have not been off-roading for a while. This was the perfect time /place to warm up for Africa (which will start in only a few days).

After a nice evening of talking over some drinks and some wonderful food, Tam and I slept on the terrace gazing at the stars. The warm night air and stars, being the only roof we had, was wonderful, I have never done this in a real bed and can really suggest it.

I, as usual, woke with the sun, and could not wait for everyone else to awake. I needed to change the front tyre before the ride, but this was my usual brand of tyre and knew I could do it without too much trouble. We started the day out slowly and the tyre went on easily. A quick check of Anubis told me that we were ready to go! The ride was stunning as we passed though the National park. The track was very similar to forestry roads back home in Australia. I found the riding enjoyable and pretty easy even two-up. All was going great until we hit a particularly deep rut and my front mudguard got jammed up under my bash plate. We did not go down but the plastic mudguard cracked in several places. I had to force it back into place so that we could move forward and continued on, but still Anubis was not handling quite right. I kept feeling like I had a flat.

It was not until we got off at the next little village at the end of the ride did I realise that there was something more. Tam jumped off the bike and reported that “yup we were stuck again”. She had to give it a swift kick to get us going. So we headed to a little café that was once a jail with the plan of having a coffee and a rest before heading back. At this stop I looked at the mudguard and saw that it was completely ruined; it had been grinding itself way along my brand new tyre. Fortunately it was only the plastic guard that was damaged. The café turned out to be closed, and so we headed home for a bit of MacGuyvering.

It took about an hour but Anubis now has a high guard. I had attacked the guard with a knife and cut and reshaped it to about 1/3 its original size. I was hacking and sawing away at the plastics with what must have looked like no sense or idea of what I was doing. Which was the case actually. Tam, Allison and Andy watched with a look of both horror and fascination on their faces, much a kin to when some one sees a road accident. This “fix” will hopefully be enough for the next two years.

Tired from a great day of riding and MacGuyvering, we sat down for another great night and meal. During which our wonderful hosts invited us to stay another day with them. At first we declined both being excited about getting in to Morocco. However, the following morning, when I went down to the garage to pack Anubis something went wrong with me. I felt nauseous and had an ever-increasing exhaustion come over me. We stayed for lunch hoping that my aliment would pass and we could get on the road. But alas as time when on my symptoms increased in severity and number, now adding headache to the list. With hats in our hands I asked if the offer for another night’s sanctuary was still open and (of course) it was.

We talked the rest of the day away and I started to slowly recover. Luckily I did recover by dinner and we went out with several of Allison and Andy’s friends. It was a very nice evening and I was very glad that we stayed. Once again I have to say thank you to Alison and Andy, we came to you as strangers but left feeling like real friends. We owe you a ride in Aus!

Spain seems to capture me every time I go there. 10 years ago it left an impression, 2 years ago on our Picos de Europa trip, it left such an impression on me, that I still consider it in the top 2 trips I have ever been on. The Spanish people are always friendly, they always appreciate you destroying their language and the food can be amazing. The country has everything that you could want; stunning mountains, beautiful beaches, amazing deserts and everything in between. It has old history and very very old history as well as contemporary interests; it has the old cities and new cities, and small villages that are out of a storybook. I have travelled a lot in Europe not necessarily only in the last few years, I have seen a lot of the now EU, the one place that grabs me every time is Spain. We once talked about how this is likely to be our last trip in Europe but between the glimpse of Portugal and the reoccurring love affair with Spain means that we will be back one day.

She Says - To new friends and new adventures…

28-29 August
We’re just wrapping up a fantastic two days in the care of Alison and Andy in Riogordo, Spain. These guys have looked after us well, and today took us out on an awesome ride through the beautiful Andalucian hills not far from their house. This is a beautiful area, and I only wish that we had more time here – or that one day we will be back again! I do have rather a soft spot for Spain…..

Yesterday morning, we got out of camp early enough to take a back route into Riogordo, going past the El Torcal natural park. We thought we didn’t have enough time to really look at the site or even go into the visitor centre, where you could apparently see some of the weird rock formations that make up the site. So we headed on down the twisty roads in gorgeous golden morning light, only to find ourselves arriving at our destination an hour early!! What a bummer, especially as Alison and Andy said it’s really worth seeing the rocks around the park visitor centre. After a chat, and our new front tyre surprisingly arriving when we thought it was a lost cause, we went off for lunch and to get our tyre and Andy’s changed (just a note to save face for Xander – the current tyre is a road tyre and more difficult to remove than a dirt tyre; he had taken the old rear off several times in France). A few hours and 15 euros later at a car garage, we had a proper off-road tyre again. Great service!

This morning after a lazy start, Xander changed the front tyre, and then we headed into the hills. We passed a cheesy photo opportunity that could not be avoided – a metal statue of a mountain goat that just screams for you to sit on it! We reached a picnic area just below the cloud line, and enjoyed a lovely lunch of deli goodies. We then headed off along some dirt tracks through the hills, enjoying the gorgeous scenery and good company. It was good to start trying to dirt tracks, as it’s something we need to get used to, and Xander handled the bike well along the bumpy tracks.

Alison and Andy have shown us a fascinating insight into ex-pat life, as they are British with two teenagers, and they have done well to integrate themselves into the village, which I really appreciate. They are also doing great things for motorbike travellers coming through this area and run local biker meets, and we think they are an amazing and wonderfully kind couple. Thanks heaps for looking after us, letting us use your washing machine, and understanding what we’re dealing with (including the stinky bike gear!). It’s been awesome sleeping on terrace under the stars (except for a few mozzies!), and spending time with their lovely dogs that accepted us into the household. Alison and Andy have shown an incredible kindness to two people they’ve never met before – we hope one day to return the favour when they set off on their own big trip!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

She Says - Getting closer to Africa…

26-27 August
Last night, we enjoyed free wi-fi access in a café and worked out where we were heading next, thanks to online mapping! During the day, we had received an SMS from Alison, who we are due to meet tomorrow, with the GPS location of their house plus a note that she’d sent an email. We already had her address from posting our tyres, and took time to map our route, which was a good idea because they are much further from Malaga than we realised! After a trip to the supermarket for canned yummies and sangria, we chatted to Alison, and headed back to our rooftop balcony. We spent our evening relaxing and enjoying our rooftop view, watching the cathedral light up and bats emerging from parts of the Alcazar then flying around us, listening to swing and big band music on the computer as we unlimited power, having a dance, and drinking sangria. Bliss! It was wonderful to treat ourselves and relax. Seeing as the best view of the cathedral at night was from our balcony, and nothing else had really grabbed us for night photos, I played with the tripod on the balcony. Easiest night shooting so far on the trip! We also had a conveniently brilliant view of the bike, which was parked in a nearby square due to traffic restrictions in this part of town. Very comforting. We’ve been able to sit on our balcony and hardly hear any traffic, except the occasional scooter through the area or horse carts carrying loads of tourists around town. We’re very surprised at how low the tourist numbers have been in Seville, even the Alacazar was not that busy including all the tour groups. Again, like Portugal, are people avoiding the summer heat or holidaying elsewhere?

We took a slow morning, and had breakfast in another free wi-fi café. We decided it was best to travel as far as possible today, to give ourselves an easy trip to Alison’s tomorrow. We wanted to find a campground reasonably early as we have no idea what is around and don’t feel we can trust our GPS list of campgrounds. We picked a likely town and pair of GPS points to head for near Aldequera. After reaching Aldequera and stocking up on groceries and a bottle of wine for our hosts tomorrow (in an enormous supermarket populated mostly by Brits!), we set off to track down the campgrounds. After getting stuffed around by the waypoints – once again going nowhere and getting lost in yet another tiny town! - we came back to Aldequera as I had seen camping sign before town, though it was very old and rough looking. We decided the best option was to talk to the tourist office, which I had seen signs for on our first entry into town, then if that failed, head to Malaga as there would definitely be campgrounds near there. After stopping in the middle of town, trying to locate the tourist office (conveniently hidden behind a truck!), we chatted with a lovely Columbian-English man who lives half the year in Spain. He recognised the lost and confused look on our faces and pointed out the tourist office across the road and also told us where the campground was! We found out that we had stumbled into a lovely town full of history, Europe’s best ancient burial chambers, and a gorgeous natural park in the surrounding hills! It’s such a shame that we have to get moving tomorrow and can’t explore anything!!!! After watching sunset over the lovely rock formations this side of the El Torcal park, I’m now sitting in the dark listening to what I think are sheep bells as they move across the hill behind us, lovely tune. The campground is full of static caravans and various load people, but it’s not too bad, apart from the water shortage that we hit when we arrived!

Tomorrow we are off to make new friends. Alison and family have very kindly let us post a new rear tyre from the UK, as well as a new front tyre ordered just a week ago in Portugal. So far, they have been amazing in letting us post the tyres, offering a place to stay and to take us to get the tyres changed, and all we know abut each other is we like to travel by motorbike! I have to say a big thank you to the Horizons Unlimited forum for putting likeminded people in touch with each other.

I’m starting to feel anxious about getting to Morocco. It will be the first time we have to take the bike through a proper border, and the first time we’ve ever applied for border visas. I know it will all be fine, and I am glad it’s Morocco that we start our African adventure in, as they are very used to European bikes coming through overland. But I’m still worried we’ll get things wrong or it will all get confused or something. Our insurance cover runs out the day we go to Morocco, nicely timed but means we have to get insurance there, which used to be at border but apparently is now in a nearby town. I can just see things going wrong or maybe getting scammed. Unfortunately, there is no point trying to carry our insurance forward as they are unlikely to cover Morocco anyway. We’re thinking now about where to go in Morocco and what to do, and it’s great to think of the time that will be up our sleeves. We will have a definite month in Morocco, maybe longer if we think we can, or if other countries will need to be rushed through due to certain areas not being accessible or recommended right now (e.g. Mauritania). It’s exciting to know there are no timelines now, as our final have-to-be-somewhere and meet people takes place tomorrow. After that, if we want to stay somewhere for many days, we can!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

She Says - Roman wonders and superb Seville

24-26 August
On our way out of Portugal, we passed through a small town called Campo Maior, purely to see their Capela dos Ossos, a tiny bone chapel created in the 1700s to commemorate 2/3 of the town (some 1500 people) who were killed when a gunpowder explosion occurred in the castle. This time, the chapel was decorated with skeletons (though not necessarily anatomically correct!), as well as many bones and skulls. It’s rather strange how people decide that this is an appropriate way to deal with large numbers of bodies. I’m guessing they feel it is more respectful than putting everyone into a mass grave. It was quite moving actually, to think of all those people killed in a disaster that left them unable to be identified and given individual burials. The town itself was absolutely dead (no pun intended) and I’m not sure they’ve seen too many tourists from some of their reactions to us - although the chapel’s guest book was full and include many recent foreign visitors, we saw no-one else.

We crossed the border through increasingly desert-like terrain to reach Merida in Spain. While the city itself wasn’t much, the entire place was full of Roman ruins. It was really cool to see how much of the Roman city remained in pieces all across the new city - everything from two different types of giant aqueducts (complete with storks’ nests!), to a temple (that a guy later built his house inside!), to pieces of old Roman road and city preserved neatly beneath buildings. No, not glass-covered so you can look in from above, but buildings have actually been built over the top of the ruins with them completely preserved underneath! You can enter the site and walk around the old roads with a modern building right above your head. There was also a large complex housing a theatre and amphitheatre, right next to each other, and several large villas. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit any of the big attractions, only gazing in from the outside, as the entrance fees (even though they gave a good package deal) were too much for our budget. The old Roman bridge leading over the river was supposedly the longest remaining in the world, but I think that’s a bit of a cheat as several sections were rebuilt in the 17th century. Walking under the bridge, I was ecstatic to find evidence of bats roosting in one of the Roman sections (happy me). The campground on the outskirts of town was very quiet with a bit of shade, and we chatted with a British couple now living in Spain, who seemed very envious of our trip. We also saw some other bike travellers, two of the handful we’ve seen camping, but didn’t get a chance to talk to them. I think they were younger than us, which makes a change, as most people we’ve seen have been older.

We’re now in beautiful Seville, living it up! To get a full experience of one of our few big European cities, we’ve treated ourselves to two nights in a nice pension room, complete with rooftop balcony, right in the middle of the old city and its attractions. We decided to stay here for two reasons – 1) the campground is well out of town, we would have to either drive or take a bus into town each day, but we also want to take night photos so it’s not very convenient, and 2) we are almost about to leave Europe and are unlikely to be back for quite some time, and we’ve been working hard with all the camping and cost-saving, so it’s a celebration of the trip we’ve had so far and the trip that is yet to come! It’s costing us a bit, but it’s worth it – last night’s view of the cathedral from our balcony was awesome. The city itself is fantastic, and everything I’d heard it would be. It’s very laid back and pleasant, considering what a large city it is. Again, it’s very quiet tourist-wise and I wonder if it’s just that no-one is travelling for recession reasons? It’s hot here, but not so much more than Portugal, which is good because everything we’ve read or heard about Seville says it’s scorching hot in summer.

Managing to get settled in a room before lunchtime yesterday gave us the rest of the day to start exploring. We wandered through the small streets of the Jewish Quarter, then through the larger streets and squares of the old town, admiring the beautiful and varying architecture and the cathedral, now heavily influenced by Moorish styles and including tilework similar to Portugal. We headed to the Plaza de Espana – to us just a point on the map supposed to be worth seeing and having no idea what it was. We stumbled in through a side entrance, to find the plaza spreading far ahead of us. The massive semi-circle plaza is full of decorated niches, each depicting a major Spanish city. Each niche is decorated in tiles, and includes a location map and panel depicting a major event from that city’s history. We enjoyed an early dinner sitting in one of these, waiting for the evening’s golden light to begin. In the centre of the semi-circle is a massive building, with two smaller buildings to each side, and through these you can access balconies for views over the whole plaza. The second half of the semi-circle was closed, as they are restoring the city niches – the first section had already had its restoration completed. In front of the semi-circular buildings is a moat with several highly decorated bridges, leading into the centre of the entire plaza to a large fountain. It’s an incredible monument to the country, and an interesting blend of architectural styles, from Islamic influences to almost garish tilework to medieval-style scenes in the niches. We moved on to visit the Plaza de America, which houses the Archaeological Museum and two other buildings. We caught the museum in perfect light for photos. In the middle of the three buildings lies a pond, providing an excellent foreground for photos and a very picturesque scene to the eye. The museum has fantastic decorations across it, but the direction of light made it difficult to see the other buildings. As we headed back to our room last night, we passed a park full of pigeons that people feed – in fact, several stalls sell almost nothing but bird food. The birds land on people who have food, providing a lot of entertainment in watching people’s reactions to birds unexpectedly landing on them!

Right now, we’re taking a siesta after spending around 4 hours in the Alcazar, the mostly Moorish-decorated palace of the royals for many years. After Xander’s treat to the Giger museum in Switzerland, this was my treat – I have a real thing for Islamic decoration, and palaces like these are the bees’ knees when you don’t get to see mosques. I have no idea what I will and won’t be able to see once we hit Morocco, but a building on such a grand scale as this was worth the money! We visited the king of palaces 10 years ago, La Alhambra in Granada, something I had wanted to see for years before, and all it has done since I feed my fascination with Islamic art and culture. One day, the Middle East and Petra……The palace lower level contains a series of highly decorated rooms, the walls of which are decorated with carved plaster, either white or with touches of colour, and around the edges and floors are mosaic-patterned tiles. The king’s main room has a high ceiling lined with wood and painted with stars of red and gold. The rooms enclose an open courtyard with a pool, and surrounded by ornately decorated arches. The upper level is more European in style, including tilework forming pictures as we’ve seen elsewhere in Portugal and Spain, and massive tapestries including ancient maps of the world. The palace is surrounded by a beautiful set of amazingly well-groomed gardens and, with its fleet of gardeners, you can almost imagine what it was like back in the palatial days, with the constant activity of sweeping the pathways to keep them clean of leaves, manicuring the hedges, etc.

The other highlights for today were the cathedral at dawn and the extensive parks of Seville. We caught the cathedral just after sunrise, as we wanted to get to the Alcazar as soon as it opened and spend as long as possible there, as well as hoping to beat the tourist crowd a bit (didn’t help much!). The beautiful light at this time of day was great for photos. After the Alcazar, we wandered back to the Plaza de America for more photos now the light was shining on the other buildings. We also walked through easily the best city park I’ve ever seen. The Seville parks are an amazing community resource, lush and green in this dry and dusty heat, holding a maze of trails and little plazas, fountains and pools. In particular areas, there are even information plaques for the different trees, providing names and uses for the plants, and a very extensive exercise trail, with information plaques showing you different exercises to complete at each point!

We’ve only seen a fraction of what the city has to offer, as it’s very different to other places we’ve been, where all the attractions are generally crammed into one central area. Seville spreads far and wide, and around every corner is another beautiful building or pleasant park. However, we don’t have the time or money to delay for more exploration and will have to move on tomorrow.

He Says - Music, muses, views and bats

24- 26 August 09

We road from Campo Major to Merida in Spain, a city famous for having huge tracks of ancient roman ruins. From the second we arrived in the campground I had a bad feeling and it never went a way. I just did not like it. We headed in to the city, and my bad feeling did not change, it could only be described as bhlah. At the first ruin we approached I noted 7 bloody hypodermic needles littering the ground. As much as I tried I could not like the city. Yes, the ruins were cool, until you looked at them closely. Then, you could tell that most of them were reconstructions so there was little magic at all. It only made me dislike the city even more. It was dirty and basically a lie.

We left early the next morning not really wanting to go back in to the city that neither of liked, and headed in to deeper in to southern Spain, towards Seville. I was expecting an ever-increasing temperature as we went south but alas it was getting colder. It was a boring two-hour ride mostly on motorways. There was a gusting crosswind most of the way, so I had to concentrate on the road and the bike and therefore could not concentrate on what we were or weren’t talking about. About 50k out of Seville, we stopped for a leg stretch and we found a red cross outpost building that looked like one day they just did not turn up for work and it had been looted ever since. It was creepier then any chapel of bones I have ever seen.

Upon entering Seville, we got lost, (I seem to sense a pattern here but can not quite find it.). At length we got our bearings and found the section of the old town that we were looking for. We promised that we could treat ourselves to a hotel room and enjoy the city with out the hassle of driving in from the campground all the time. We had plenty of choices but the one we found was a pension that was next door the Alcazar had a private roof terrace and was only 50€ (5€ more then a basic pension room). The view was fantastic and Seville was an amazing place.

The view alone was worth the €€€. We both agreed that we really liked it here. After getting the hotel set up we spent the rest of the afternoon walking the streets looking at the wonderful building and narrow lane ways. Seville is such a nice place (if not a little on the expensive side). Most of the little lane ways were clean and the houses were well kept. It was like the perfect version of what you want to see out of a city like this.

We got up early so that we could get fed and ready and be inside the Alcazar at the opening. The plan was conceived so that we could miss the crowds, and have lots of time to take photos and wander without the hustle and bustle of the tour groups. Well we missed the lines to get in but before we finished looking thought the first room (which we could see our hotel terrace by the way) the tour groups had already caught up. So much for the plan to have some time alone in there.

Tam spent most of the time it seemed to me trying to capture every square inch of the place on film or video. I could not shake the feeling that I was in a Tombraider like video game and some “bady” would come out and try and kill me. Despite that “danger” we spent most of the day wandering in the buildings or gardens. The Alcazar is a mish-mash of about 6-7 different building styles conglomerating in to a big palace of sorts (hence the Tombraider flash backs). Some of it is medieval some later but the nicest part was by far were the oldest Moorish sections. This section was covered in intricate plaster carvings and designs that can often be overwhelming while at the same time peaceful. Hopeful this will just be a taster for what is to come in the next few months as we head for the home of the Moors.. but alas we shall see.

Although we decided that we should go out and do some night photography. We took advantage of our balcony room and brought in a light dinner. It consisted of some salmon wrapped in pimentos, garlic breads, cheese and sangria. So as the sun set we sat there drinking sangria, listening to some 40’s bigband music, and watching the bats fly over head. Well as you can imagine a few glasses of sangeria under our belts and we did not move, the night shots did not happen (again). Although this time I do not regret it Seville is one of the very few cities in the world that is more photogenic during the day then at night. The night was warm we shared a danced on the balcony, and eavesdropping on the quietest city ever. We are right in the centre of the old quarter and all we can hear is the clip-clop of tourists being shown around by horse cart and the occasional pigeon. One such pigeon sat a few metres away and joined us in the music and views not moving for at least an hour. We laughed at the number of people that would walk by Anubis (unloaded) and stop and stare or comeback with a camera and take a picture. Yet there was hardly a sole that was looking the cathedral towering above.

We slept in for the first time since I can remember, before packing the bike and heading out for breakfast. We decided to do some much-needed internet work and so looked for a wi-fi café. There were a few choices including McDonalds, which we just could not bring ourselves to go to. We picked a café and spent a good couple of hour doing the net work although this did not include blog updates. When we had enough of the café and the computer. We decided that it was also time to move on and head to our next destination.

This however was the problem, we new we had to head towards Malaga, because in two days we were meeting up with friends, but did not have any idea where to go for that night. But we headed out anyway hopping that the GPS would let us know when we were near a campground. Well it did not work. We found a place called Aldequera which was said to have one, but it turned out to be the bus station, we then went to the next waypoint and it was simply a dead end. So now both a little short of temper and a little short in patients we had one of our little “you are not listening” spats that seem to only occur when we have been on the bike for too long and while looking for a place to get off the bike. Eventually it was decided that as we saw a tourist information office (sign) in Aldequera that we should head back that way and see if they can help. If not our only other option was to go an additional hour on the bike to where both the GPS and the maps say there is a campground (and hopefully it is open). As we road in to town, we lost the signs to the tourist info office, and ended up just following the sign to the historical centre. We reached the coble stone sections of streets Excellent! Here all the signs simply stopped, we had no idea where to go or where we were. I pulled over at a little round about type thing and we were talking about what to do next. When out of nowhere a man appeared next to us and in accented but perfect English. “What are you looking for”. This was the start of a 20 minute conversation with a Colombian /British expat, who told us where the campground was (10km out of town) and that he was a biker knew the look on our faces as he too has pulled into town looking for X Yor Z and could not find it. It was that required him interrupt his afternoon coffee to help us. He told us that we had stop (by luck) just out side the tourist office although the sign was obscured by restoration work (helpful!).

Aldequera was a sunning little town and would have been worth a day or two, but we simply did not have the time. We got to the campground and it had a sunning view of El Torcal, a series of rock formations deserving of a day or two in its own right. The campground looked okay, but as we found a place to pitch we noted that the rubbish bin had not been emptied in several days, and then we found out that there was no water to drink, shower or to use the toilet and yet it still cost us €20. We both were still a bit grumpy from the ride and this was not helping. We set up and had dinner and just as I was thinking about going back to town to buy some drinking waer, as well as complaining a lot to the camp manager and trying to get our money back, the water came back on. Things started to look up. Tam went for a shower, which was ice cold because of the lack of water all day, however by the time I got there I got 3 minutes of hot water.

Monday, 24 August 2009

He says – Rocks, Skulls, and ahhhhh!!!

22 - 24 August 09

We got up and Tam was feeling sick. We however made the decision to get moving and went on what turned out to be a 40km disappointing megalith hunt. Hot frustrate and ill we headed decided to just move on. Once we arrived at Portalargra we discovered that the campground there was closed too. This was despite the many bloody city signs that just kept point you up the 30km of switch back mountain pass never once did they tell you that is was closed. However an enterprising campground owner did put a poster up for his place on the locked gate. We now had an other 80k to go to get to Castilo de Vide and the nearest campground. With a bit of two up navigational savvy we got lost and road around for about an hour before Tam’s illness made her grumpy and in no uncertain terms told me to go back and find the dammed place. We did just that this time with hardly a wrong turn (motivated navigation, I guess). When we did find the site, it was run by a Dutch guy (there must be no people left there).

We spent the next few days exploring the area, the two big towns in the area, Marvao and Castilo de Vide, are both old walled medieval citadels. Marvao was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. I though Evora was nice, but Marvao with its white washed walls and cobbled narrow streets over took Evora in seconds. The entire city was said to only have 350 people left living in it. We spent lunch watching bee eaters flying by the walls in a great display of acrobatics. The thing that I could not believe was that there were so many empty houses again. These could so easily be made into B&B all to easily. All the region needs is to advertise. The Algarve did and look at it, it is crawling with…ahh…okay so maybe lets not advertise.

Castilo de Vide, was simular to Marvao, just more of a real city and with out the amazing views. We spent the afternoon there exploring the tiny streets and labyrinth of the old Jewish quarter. On the way out we stopped at a small Roman city, it was expensive to get in to and not well preserved as such we only looked at it form the outside, but had seen enough of these in the UK to know what we were looking at. We thought we would try our luck again and go megalith hunting. The hunt started off very badly, with us not being able to find anything. Eventually we found one. It was 30k or so from where we initially wanted to be but at least we found one. It was obviously a fertility symbol. Now having our fix on that one were able to track down several others. Including a small one that was only about 800m from or tent (as the crow flies) you could see the tent from it but not vis versa. So in one day we did prehistory, roman history and medieval history.. not bad for a 50k ride..

I have really fallen in love with central Portugal.. It goes to show that my theory of try everything 3 times is right.. when we first got here is was not great.. Porta was bad, the camp site was hell… Lisbon good, Evora great, Marvao is excellent and now I don’t really want to leave. Everywhere has good and bad places.

I have fount that the people here in Portugal are not an openly happy people, which can make or break a trip. The number of times Portuguese have just come stared at us or the bike, during which we say “hello” (Bon Dia) and they just look at us like we have 10 heads is uncountable, the number of time this has happened and they then turn around and chat is 2. The first was a guy who spoke to us spoke perfect English and he was fun (see above for brits and sports)! The second guy was on our way down to Castilo de Vide, we stopped in a small town for lunch, and this old man who just came off his bike (a week before) was interested in how I ride the behemoth that is Anubis and how much safety gear cost. He is really banged up after his fall (but he is still riding in a horse riding helmet and a t-shirt). It was fun trying to figure out what he was saying and trying to answer his questions. Then conversation then went beyond our comprehension and he started to talk about things we had no idea about. None the less it was nice to have some contact with the locals. I don’t not feel that this is tourist thing and there does not seem to be any difference between strangers that are Portuguese. They are a polite people but not overtly friendly and jolly. I have been watching the interaction between people in shops. It almost always goes the same they walk in “Can I please have….” The serving person repeats the request, serves it. Person one “thank you”.. Later on “bill please” .. “your bill is X€” they pay and leave. Never unfriendly just not friendly.

We headed back to Spain, via a little town called Campomaior. We went this way for one reason only they also have a chapel of bones. This one was not on such a grand scale, and was built when a gunpowder factory blew up killing 1500 people. They had no way of identifying the bones so lumped them together in the chapel. I decided that I really liked the idea. It is so much better then a mass grave and a plaque somewhere. This is immortalising the victims in a way that could not be done other wise. The one thing that did make it a bit creepy, to me, was that the chapel was contained with in a person’s house. 1500 odd skulls (or bits of) and 2 entire bodies right next to their living room and you could just look though the window to see it. The concept was still good to me but the idea of it being in a house was a little odd. Don’t get me wrong the house was attached to the cathedral and was most likely a member of the clergy who lived here, but I would not want to eat my corn flakes every morning with 1500 skulls looking at me. Beside the occasional one fell down and would make the most awful sound. Crack Crunch.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

She Says - A place to return to…

22-23 August
We’ve had a wonderful day exploring today, and on its last day Portugal has shown us its best sights. Following the raving review in our tiny fraction of guidebook, we had saved visiting the walled towns of Castelo de Vide and Marvao until the end, as they are near the border of Spain. We planned to take an easy day travelling the 100km from Evora to Portalegre (not far from the towns and the only place camping was noted), visiting some prehistoric burial tombs and cave art on the way. Unfortunately, this was a major bust! The cave was closed for apparent improvement works (though no signs of these actually starting) and the burial chambers were either non-existent, or possibly were next to the road with no further signage or obvious access! We made one more attempt to find a tomb in the middle of a lake, but couldn’t even find the lake!!! As I was still feeling a bit off, we decided to get ourselves to Portalegre, stopping in Estramoz for lunch as it seemed like a reasonable distance away and large enough for lunch supplies. Turns out it was a great place to stop! It was a walled city, fairly large and, as seems to be the way here, completely uninhabited. We drove in through a really cool gate and right into the middle of the Saturday market. We had a brief wander around, enough to see part of the city and get to the castle and wall. It was a really nice town, quiet but very hot, and while I felt ok, we thought we should move on to camp.

We reached Portalegre and picked up groceries from one of the many large supermarkets conveniently located near the highway turnoff. We then got completely lost trying to find the campground. Campgrounds are usually very well marked in Portugal, but we found only one sign. When we finally did work out where to go (thankyou GPS and gut instinct), we found the campground had closed! Thankfully, two industrious campgrounds right near the towns we were planning to visit had posted up their details, including GPS waypoints. We were immediately attracted by one that called itself a rural camping site, because even though our recent camping experiences have been good, we will always go for somewhere out of the way! Trying to follow the GPS once we reached Castelo de Vide and find the right road to take out of town, we ended up going right through town and its twisty, windy, very very steep, cobbled streets! At one point, Xander had to make a 90-degree turn down a steep slope – I thought we were going over! We made our way out the other side of town and tried to find a road that would take us where we needed. We ended up following small brown wooden signs for some megaliths, Xander even getting carried away and running us down a farm track, but it was getting late and we really needed to find this campground!!!

Making our way back into town, we tried again, found the right road, and followed the GPS right to the campground. It looked like there was probably a well sign-posted route if we had taken a different road from Portalegre, but who cares - we made it! And it has been so worth it. Run by a Dutch guy (who can speak every language as they always can!) and his partner, the campsite is located on their organic farm. It’s quiet, they run on solar power, drinking water comes in 5 litre jugs from the nearby spring, food and drinks run on an honour system, and they have TOURIST INFO!! I’ve found it very difficult to get information on areas outside cities, whereas this campground has booklets and leaflets for the whole area, including walking paths between towns and even megalithic sites (another reason for visiting this area). While the tourist office in Marvao today also supplied good (similar) information, Castelo de Vide did not. There seems to be a strange thing here to not really give information and yet somehow this campground has it? Maybe you have to ask the exact right question in the tourist offices and they’ll dig it out for you, but nothing was ever obvious except stuff to buy. We also happily met some old friends in the campground - the stars and Milky Way!! Even though we were able to see stars in big cities like Birmingham over the past 4 years, you don’t realise how many millions of them are out there. Being away from Australia’s low population and light pollution for so long, I had forgotten all about the Milky Way till I saw it glowing right above me. There are no cities around here, only small towns and very little traffic – wow. We finally found a campground just like home!

All along the Portugal-Spain border are settlements like the two we visited today, made from stone and in strategic locations to fight against the Moors, before being overtaken by them. Marvao was my favourite town, ‘the nest of eagles’, perched high on a hilltop with views all around, a castle to explore (for free!), small lanes, and cool architecture (solid stone doorways and carved arch windows) that I haven’t seen since the day we arrived in Portugal and had lunch in a tiny hilltop town. This tiny town houses only a few hundred people, and a good number of tourists. It was still incredibly quiet, in fact the busiest it got was inside the castle tower, and at a restaurant for lunch (we’re getting a little more relaxed about food now, wanted to celebrate our last day here, but also there were no shops for basic snack food!). Castelo de Vide was very nice and very different. Located lower but still on a hill, it had several different quarters, including the twisty windy Jewish quarter and the medieval city inside the old castle. Originally built in the 13-14th centuries, the castle and city walls were refortified and enlarged in the 17-18th centuries, enclosing the full city as it was at the time – it’s not much bigger now. Slightly run down, but surprisingly cleaner in the medieval town (helped by enhancement works although these seem to have stalled – a common occurrence in Portugal), Castelo was really charming and made for good photos. Well, attempts anyway, light is not always on our side! Light, now there’s a thing – always sunny, always blue, it’s been heaven! We’re learning to deal with biking in the accompanying hot weather, and we’ve had excellent training for our upcoming African adventure. We had gorgeous golden light tonight as we explored the nearby prehistoric burial tombs (really good examples) and a giant 7m tall standing stone. It took a bit to find each site - even though signs were provided, they were very small and not always obvious from every direction - but we got there in end!

We could easily spend more time in this area, there’s so much to see and walks to do. However, we will move on tomorrow so we can visit Merida, a Spanish town covered in Roman ruins and relicts, before heading to Seville and our scheduled meet-up with some people near Malaga to collect our new tyres. Portugal has been hard to love, with few attractive small towns, people that are not quick to smile or even interact (the number of times we’ve said hello to people staring at the bike only to get blank looks in return!!), and very aggressive drivers (comparable to Britain), but certain areas are really stunning and we both feel it’s a place we’d like to visit again with the benefit of hindsight!

Wildlife of Portugal – there’s not much to tell! Bird life has been very poor, in fact the best stuff has been in the last two days with small birds here in camp, and the gorgeous bee-eaters that we’ve seen on powerlines and flying around the walls of Marvao. We’ve only seen these beautiful multicoloured birds once before, in a sand-bank nesting colony we stumbled across in Romania last year. We spent ages watching birds soar back and forth below the Marvao castle, desperately trying for a half-decent photo. We’re back in vulture country now and have seen a few, plus a number of other birds of prey across country, but so few small birds. I finally saw a European snake, inside Castelo’s medieval city; unfortunately, it was rather dead and broken into two pieces. We’ve seen a few lizards, including a bright green one today, and lots of bugs. There’s always ants, they get everywhere and are a variety of shapes and sizes, but last night I had a freaky spider crawl on me in the tent – weird 4-way jaws and a long, thin, brown body, ergh.

I’ve been meaning to make some note of the agriculture in Europe, as it’s been quite interesting. In northern France, we saw very small farms, even strip farming like we had previously only seen in Romania. Over there, these were the farms of individual families, and I have to wonder if it’s the same in France? As we moved south, the farms grew larger. Plenty of grain crops were being grown, and there were very few livestock. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of vineyards in certain areas. In Spain, agriculture took place on a larger scale, with the produce more mixed (fewer grains, more corn and fruit trees). There were a lot more cattle, including the black fighting cattle. They were also very big on wind farming and solar panel farming!!! In Portugal, there was little evidence of agriculture for foodstuffs. On the eastern border when we first arrived, it was again like Romania, but because every family home had a large garden of mixed plants for their own supply, including fruit trees. Closer to Lisbon, we saw more plantations of olives and fruit, and of course the wine growing region of Douro Valley was full of vineyards. Cork oak plantations were scattered all over the country. There were LOTS of eucalyptus plantations, more so in the central region and around Lisbon, to the point where we swore we were back in Tasmania at times! It’s been some years since I left Tassie’s forestry industry, and was very strange seeing land clearance and felling operations on this scale again.

Friday, 21 August 2009

She Says - Portugal’s beautiful cities

18-21 August
We left Lisbon for Sintra, yet another World Heritage site but this time for the landscape of beautiful houses and palaces set into the forested hillside. Sintra was home to the royals and visited by other famous rich people including Lord Byron, and it’s well worth the visit for the winding alleys (full of tourist shops) and gorgeous buildings. A surprising number of houses seem to have been completely abandoned - it’s so sad, I hate seeing beautiful buildings left to decay and I can’t understand why they haven’t been bought and converted to hotels or pousadas (B&Bs) or even just lived in! We’ve seen a lot of this now, even in Lisbon, buildings where there are loads of tourists and visitors and so amazingly empty. I’m surprised they haven’t been bought by some national organisation for preservation of historic buildings and turned into museums or something, but I’ve no idea if such an organisation exists here considering the state of decay we’ve been seeing. We fell in love with one house, all covered in tile work with a balcony and balustrades and arches and just beautiful – it broke our hearts to see this massive beautiful building slowly decaying.

We had reached Sintra reasonably early (only 20 minutes by highway from Lisbon) and decided to leave early after lunch as there were no campgrounds nearby. Our trip south along the coastline led us past Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of mainland Europe, so that was worth a quick stop. We chatted with another motorbike-travelling couple from Italy, who spend their holidays each year travelling to a different part of Europe – I think that’s a great way to slowly see the world! They seemed really impressed about our trip, and even took photos of the bike. The attention we get from people is a little embarrassing sometimes, as we don’t feel like we are really doing anything so out of the ordinary. The problem is, we know of many other people who have done trips like this, but that’s from our exposure through internet forums etc., and not everyone has had that same exposure. I have to remind myself that taking 2 years out of your life just to travel is a pretty weird thing to most people - it seems quite normal to us to do it, but I guess really it isn’t! We found a nice coastal campground – big, busy, not too loud but more expensive than we’ve been paying lately – and enjoyed sunset over the horribly littered sand dunes. We came back into Sintra the next morning to visit the palaces and Moorish castle, not to go inside as entrance fees were high, but hoping instead for some nice views. However, the access road was thin and full of buses and people, and you can’t see anything of the view or buildings! We caught a glimpse of one palace and decided to move on to town to take advantage of their free library internet access. Happily, we found there is a network of library internet across the country - at least two cities we plan to visit in the next week have access so that may be useful, as we are looking at having some slow days soon. Unhappily, the library computer corrupted our memory stick with a virus and we were unable to update our Swiss blog, which we’ve been trying to do for 3 weeks now!

After lunch, we took the toll roads to Evora, which were quick and almost empty, and we only got a little bit lost in Lisbon. Approaching Evora, we took a detour along a well sign posted route to some prehistoric rock monuments that our map indicated were in the area – wow! (and not just because it was sign-posted!!) We found the giant circle of Almendres, made from around 50 large granite blocks formed into 2 circles (one basically inside the other). The rocks have been rounded, and several of them had engravings, either circles or hollowed out ‘cup’ marks – not an easy task using granite! It’s the biggest stone circle on the Iberian peninsula, and I was thrilled we got to see something so cool. Visiting prehistoric (or megalithic) sites is a bit of a hobby of ours (mostly mine I think!) and we’ve visited loads in the UK, so it’s been great to see some stuff over here too. However, we decided not to hike to the single standing stone nearby – we’ve seen enough of these by now, and it’s very hot out here! We also got to see cork oak plantations! It was very bizarre to see these trees stripped of bark almost all the way up the trunk. Stranger still to see them marked with numbers that appear to correspond to the year the bark was cut, presumably so they know when to cut again. Almost every tree we’ve seen seems to be cut though – including on roadsides and in picnic areas – presumably because we’ve heard there is a world cork shortage and any tree is fair game!

We found the campground outside Evora, run by the same group with the same prices as over near Cabo da Roca. We decided to ride into town to see if there were any other camps, only to get ourselves hopelessly lost and ended up riding through the pedestrian-only zone in the middle of town! We found the tourist office, but there were no other campgrounds. We were able to read about the area’s other prehistoric monuments, and picked up a map of the city and surrounds for later exploring. Arriving late in the campground, good and quiet but around 2km from town, we decided to have an easy night and visit the city the next day when we could walk during the cooler morning. It’s very very VERY hot here, now that we’re out on the plains again, and someone told us it’s around 40 degrees today. The campsite is stifling, dry and dusty, with few places on the site having shade all day. Our tarp provides some protection, but it’s still very warm under it and inside tent, and the airflow is not great. I have to say though, while hot, I’m glad we haven’t seen rain for 2 weeks - I was getting pretty sick of it! We’ve had little worry if each day will be sunny and nice, or if we’ll get rained on!

We got to Evora nice and early yesterday morning. It’s a lovely little city, and again so quiet! There were plenty of tourists around, just not busy like we expected from a major tourist destination in the middle of summer. It was really nice and easy to walk around. The city is all white and yellow, and the buildings are in better condition than we’ve seen elsewhere. It’s a walled city and almost entirely paved in rough cobblestones (not neat square ones like we’ve seen elsewhere in Portugal and other parts of Europe). The Romans settled here, and left behind a temple in the city centre along with parts of an aqueduct. In the 1500s, a giant aqueduct was built from the edge of the city outwards, and now there are houses built under some of the archways! The big highlight of Evora, and our main reason for visiting it, was the Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos). Adding to our list of the world’s most morose monuments (among others, we’ve made it to Czech Republic’s Kutna Hora bone church, Paris’ bone-lined catacombs, and Rome’s mummified monks chapel), this small chapel behind one of the main churches was completely lined with human bones in 1810. The bones have been arranged around the walls into patterns, and include the mummified body of one of the chapel’s designers. I loved the motto written across the entry to the chapel, something along the lines of ‘These bones that lie here, wait for yours’. I was really pleased that, unlike a number of similar places we’ve visited, photos and videos were welcome and we could take as much footage as we wanted! The main entry into the chapel was covered in tiles, and contained a beautiful series of azulejos depicting Jesus carrying his cross. We went back to camp mid-afternoon, originally planning to return tonight to take ‘golden hour’ photos before sunset and some night shots; however, we’ve realised that nothing was particularly worth returning for due to the low angle of the sun, the high building walls and tight streets – no light really gets in anywhere in the afternoon!

I’ve been getting frustrated at not having time to write blog entries that are more than rough notes, or being able to get enough free internet time. Not paying where we can manage it helps a lot, as it’s money we need to help us stay on budget (already running over since we left France). Often the computer doesn’t have enough battery life to do much work, so that doesn’t help either, though we are getting better at organising ourselves to charge it off the bike while in camp (one hour is no problem to the bike battery and gets the computer charged well). The most frustrating thing is that everything takes time!!! Writing blogs, downloading photos then going through and picking the ones to keep, plus trying to keep track of other elements of the trip (like costs and fuel consumption), on top of daily work like cooking, cleaning and clothes washing, all takes a lot of time. Thankfully, the campsite has FREE WIRELESS INTERNET and we’ve spent a lot of time since last night using the computer in the TV room, getting all our batteries charged and photos downloaded, uploading the Swiss blog entries, going through emails, and gathering info on bike travel in Morocco. OK, it’s mostly been me! Xander has been reading and relaxing a lot. But like our electronic gear, our batteries need recharging too sometimes. I was feeling a bit off this morning and didn’t feel like dealing with heat, so being inside all day has been really good, and having a day of not being tourists is a good thing. And I’m slowly catching up!

He says - Evora – I could Die here.

19-21 August 2009

Getting to Evora was an easy ride. We took the toll road from Lisbon it ended up costing us about 6€ but the ease was worth it. As we pulled off I saw a sign for some monoliths and took it with out telling Tam. At first she was unhappy that I was doing something with out talking to her or at least telling her my plan , but she was thrilled when I did tell her. Luckily, the first one we went to was the largest and oldest in all of this region maybe even Portugal. I always associate megaliths and burial cairns with the UK, but there is 100s more here. I still am not thrilled with northern Portugal but central is turning out to be stunning. The only thing that is a bit sad is that there seems to be a complete lack of wildlife except for really large carrion birds. We are unsure if we were looking at buzzards or eagles but one thing is for sure they are very large.

Evora, is pretty much in the centre of Portugal, it is a walled town with world heritage listing. The main part of town is completely surrounded by a wall. Inside the wall the heat was almost worse then out in the blazing sun. The wall and tall buildings completely blocked any kind of breeze. Despite the heat the city had a friendly feel the people were all nice. It was a generally comfortable place. Evora also was the cleanest city I have ever seen, there was not a scrap of litter anywhere.

The little alleys and streets snaked their way around the city and it was easy to get lost. Somehow we never did. The streets ranged from ~2m wide to 2 lane roads, luckily we camped a few ks outside so we did not have to drive in that maze.

The major centrepiece of the old section of town was a temple of Diana held in the centre of a large square flanked on the sides by the cathedral, university and police station. The forth sections was a raised section of the wall that had been enveloped by the city and was now a stunning vantage point. From here you could look over the vast expanse of the city. This wall also had a huge mural allegedly depicting the revolution, however the paint was so chipped and faded that you could hardly make out shapes let alone a theme.

The day was spent walking around and seeing the sights. One of the best was the roman aqueduct, not because of the ducts itself. This was little different to any 100s of others. What made this one special was the houses that were build in to the archways. They were well designed and were made to look like it was part of the plan. There were also streets that would end in a part of the duct, where the top of the archway were only about 1m high, meaning only people could come and go.

One of the big attractions in Evora was a chapel of bones like the others it was created to lay to rest the bones of displaced graves. We of course went in! While there I was amazed at some of the comments that I over heard. Mostly from Americans exclaiming that it is against god, and that it made them “sick to see such horrific blasphemy” but they stayed longer and took more photos then anyone else. I can understand how some people would find it morose, or creepy (especially the way it was under lit and hence was designed to be creepy), but this is a crypt and holy ground so how can it be against their god and blasphemy? More importantly if it was so bad why stay so long and photograph everything?

We decided against having lunch and opted for just fruit as we both thought that we have been eating too much. There was a little fruit seller that was operated by a woman who looked to be several hundred years old. She noticed Dr. Otterboro in Tam’s bag and at first, I think, was frightened until she realised it was a toy. She and Tam then had a great time laughing about it. Tam tried explaining that it is not a rat but an otter. I don’t think the message was ever communicated. After lunch on the steps of the third cathedral in town we walked home to relax. The next day was a day off only the 3rd since we started and Tam basically spent the entire day on the net in the family room at the campsite. I spent it reading in either in the room with her or the tent.

We were once again supposed to get up and go to town for some night shots but it was a very hot day and in the end we could not be bothered walking 8km for a few shots. In retrospect this was a shame and a huge mistake as Evora has been one of my favourite places to date. We are to move on the next day as well.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

He Says –Lisbon –or is that San Francisco

17-19 Aug 2009

With an easy hours drive we were in Lisbon (toll road). I was looking forward to it again, the campground was 22€ per day and looked like it would be hell as we pulled up. But it turned out to be great. We found a quiteish spot near the very top and set up. Wasting no time we were in Lisbon by noon.

Lisbon is a big city no doubt, but the old charm and nice views make it worth the visit. Like any big city, all is not perfect. In one market I came up behind a couple of guys talking about Tam and her “grand photo”. They looked like they came from the hellish campground a few nights previous. One then point to the right side of Tam and motioned for his friend to go left. He then mimed that he would grab the camera. I was at least a head teller then both of them... a simple but loud “humhum” directly above their heads and they took off at a run.

We wandered all over the city and the hills around it. The architecture really grabbed Tam and she was taking photos like a lunatic. Lisbon is built between 5 hills and had elevators in several sections of town. You either had to pay to ride them or get fit and walk up steep hills or a myriad of stairs to get around. Lisbon also had adopted a San Francisco motif it had an exact replica of the SF bridge, as well as street cars that would ferry people around the city and up the steep hills.

The city of Lisbon was once a port kingdom and just our luck the sea defences were closed and the castle was way to expensive to go into. So we took all those stairs for nothing!!! In truth the views over the city from some of the viewpoints was worth it anyway. On our way down from the hill top that held the castle we came across an archaeological dig site that was in the process of uncovering a roman colosseum that was estimate to be massive in its day, but now is little more then a few bricks.

We spent the rest of the day and evening in Lisbon wandering around little streets and alleys and enjoyed it all. We had read that one of the National dishes or Portugal was fried sardines with sea salt and found a little café that sold it. So we ordered a platter for two (which just so happen to come with a carafe of sangria). Shortly after an American couple walked in. Our meal arrived, it was literally a pile of whole fried sardines (not gutted, deheaded, or anything) covered in corse sea salt. The American man shot us a dirty look said to the waiter (in English) that our “meal is making his wife sick.” The waiter simply scoffed at him and walked away. They left shortly after that, why do some people even travel?

We retuned to the city the following night to do some night photography. Most cities are at there most photogenic at night and Lisbon is no exception.

Lisbon is a modern city that has maintained its old world charm; it has all the hustle and bustle of any large city but also has a unique prettiness that is lost so often in the race for money and growth. Funnily enough I really enjoyed Lisbon but am finding it hard to say why or explain more.

On our way out of town we stopped in a huge camping store that oddly one sold one brand, but next to where we parked was the ultimate rat travel bike. A modified Honda Deville, would you just look at those tank panniers!

From Lisbon we headed to Sintra.. a massive 20min ride. When we got there we found a picture perfect little village that was dotted with abandon mansions. We could not believe that some of these places were left to rot. One in particular caught both our attention. It looks like it was an old nunnery or something. It was huge and beautiful and empty. It would be a tragedy if it were to fall to bits. It was just calling out to become a B&B.

We wandered around town for a bit, but decide not to pay entry fees in to any of the castles or forts (the cheapest being about 5€, the most was 11€ each). We have been too spoiled by our national heritage and trust cards to start paying at least of 1/3 our daily budget on an entry fee.

After awhile we decided to head to the coast to find a campground. Our GPS and maps both let us down and several listed on the GPS were caravan or wild camps or were closed for whatever reason. Finally we did find a camp and it was nice enough although we pitched to close too the services block and I was unable to sleep for most of the night.

At the time of writing this we are back in Sintra at the library that will not accept our memory stick and says it has a virus but the eee pc and avast claims that the virus come from them. Later to day we head for Evora,

Monday, 17 August 2009

He Says – Redemption

15 - 17 Aug 09

we headed towards Alcobaca, a little town we planned on spending the night in before plunging to Lisbon,

Just before the turn to, I saw the Baltalha Cathedral. I immediately pulled off. The Cathedral was awesome, literally and figuratively. The city was clean and pretty and the people were much more polite. My spirits raised bit. The Cathedral was a massive structure and I was tempted to spend the night there walking around, but we decided that we should keep going as

Alcobaca was supposed to be nice as well and it would mean a short ride to Lisbon. We did, however, spend a good couple of hours looking in and around the square and cathedral and both really liked it. We then headed to Alcobaca, but not before being surounded by a few guys who were facinated by the Anubis then our trip.

Shortly after we arrived at Alcobaca, we checked into the 7€ (total) a night municipal campground, it was great!!! Small cheep quiet clean, and friendly unlike in Porto or the campground the night before. I was not worried and no one was scowling at us. After settling in and eating fresh spaghetti, with homemade tomato sauce and canned meatballs (the meatballs were not the best idea,, the rest was great though). We went for a walk and saw some very pretty little townhouses and an amazing monastery all by night. Strangely enough we also came across a Moroccan Berber tent in the middle of the city….. A young man went to Morocco, fell in love with it and is now promoting (on his own euro) Morocco and a lot of northern Africa. He was a bit mad and I think had religious undertones to his promotion.

The city was dominated by a huge monastery that filled the central square, it was surrounded by alleyways full of shops and restaurants. There were a surprising number of empty houses that once again could be easily used as hotels and B&B. None the less the town had a small and peaceful feel to it. The first four days in this country I did not find anything we really liked then in the space of 4 hours we found two Portugal was redeeming itself.

She Says - Portugal gets interesting…

14-17 August

We left the campground near Viana, where the music had gone on late into the night and included fireworks at some unknown hour, and headed into the city to see the historic centre our guidebook said was worth visiting. Well, it wasn’t! Apart from a neat looking church well up a hill, the fort was unimpressive and we found no sign of an interesting old sector. What we did see was a lot of preparation for the Nossa Senhora festival, which appears to be a fairly localised festival. I felt slightly torn at leaving and missing this cultural event, but didn’t feel that it was worth staying any longer.

We headed down to Porto, the second largest city and home of port wine, with a World Heritage-listed city centre. Sorry Dad, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t buy any port to send home! We spent about 4 hours wandering around the steep, thin streets. I liked the city, it was somehow full of a grimy charm, with the general housing buildings mostly in need of a good cleanup and repair, while the more official-looking buildings and churches were very grand and clean. Like a completely different world, we saw people hanging their washing out the front windows of their multi-storey flats, and chickens in the back alleys. We found the national tourist office and finally some information brochures about the country, and from this I discovered the blue tiles I’ve been starting to see everywhere are a national art called azulejos. Apparently Portugal is famous for these blue and white tiles that depict anything from a simple picture of Mary and Jesus or a saint, to massive murals of seafaring expeditions and battles. I found one cool church in Porto with the front covered in azulejos, but they pop up in random places like houses and plazas.

After Porto, we headed back into the Douro Valley to see more of the port-wine-growing terraces we spotted when we first arrived in Portugal. Having bought a map of Portugal that morning, we headed for a campground that was right beside the Douro River and, I figured, was far enough away from everything that it would be nice. WRONG!!!! After a long trip down small roads, it turned out to be the worst campground ever - absolutely massive with people crammed into every space, and mostly full of static campers. It was expensive (similar to Spain) without great facilities, including a supermarket with really rubbish supplies – frustrating, as we were low on food and had assumed there would be a nearby town for grocery shopping (apparently not). Its only redeeming feature was that we were in a strip of camping spots under cover and right next to the river. However, they let a 4x4-camper park right in front of us so we lost our view (the tent next to us was furious!). While there was a pool, they also had swimming section in the river – it was really nice, the water was almost warm and very refreshing after our long day. The bar and restaurant were thankfully at the top of the camp, but it was loud all night from people all around us, and we slept terribly.

We got out of the campground really early the next morning, as much to get away as to cover as much ground as possible on our way down to Lisbon. We spent the morning following a small road alongside the river, making our way up the valley, watching as the hills became more and more covered in terraces for growing grapes and olives. It was a very pretty landscape, but hard to capture in a photo. The river has been dammed in sections and they have huge locks to allow boats to move up and down river. I’d never seen one of these before (only small ones for canal boats in England), so instead of eating our salami and cheese sandwiches we stopped for some roadside salmonella…sorry, roast chicken…at one of the locks and got to watch it in action. Pretty cool! They let through two large passenger ferries and a small speedboat all at once, slowly raising the water level by what looked like 50m.

Our plan was to stop about halfway down the country, then hit Lisbon the next day to spend a few days before heading inland. The toll roads were very quick and easy, and very economical - they really were the best way to cover some ground so we could see the places we want to see, and make up for our misguided journey north. We felt surprisingly fresh after our awful night, and managed to push well down the country that day, heading for Alcobaca because it had a World Heritage-listing on the map and seemed far enough away from everything that it might not be too big or crowded (even thought hat failed us the previous night!), but close enough to get us to Lisbon early the next day (always good to hit cities early). On the way, we turned off the road because we saw a World Heritage (they have a lot here!!) sign for the Batalha cathedral. We wandered around for an hour, admiring the very grand building from inside and out. Inside, we got some cool shots of reflected stained glass and the very attractive candlestick holders. Outside, the glow of late afternoon made the place look great. Now this was more like it! We reached the campground at Alcobaca and it was the right choice – the small and very quiet campsite cost only 7 euros!! The monastery in the city and the adjoining old streets and buildings of the World Heritage city centre were very nice. We took some night photos and enjoyed wandering around the very quiet streets. For the first, we time found a place we liked in Portugal, and felt that we were getting ourselves on the right track at last.

We reached Lisbon early the next day, after a reasonably easy trip into the city. We weren’t exactly sure where the campground was, only the district, and managed to get ourselves here somehow (we later found there are nice big signs off the highway!). The campground is huge and expensive (22 euros), but actually quite nice. Campers are set in a different area to tents, and the whole area is set in woodland and covered in pine needles (makes for soft bedding!). It’s surprisingly quiet, and for the first time in weeks I haven’t had to wear earplugs to bed. After getting ourselves settled, we caught the conveniently located bus from the campground into the city centre. Lisbon is nice, very laid back and extremely quiet, though we have to wonder if that is due to lack of tourists travelling in the credit crunch, or is it always that way? Basically everyone we saw was a tourist, even if they were Portuguese. One of the few big cities we’ve visited in Europe, it is the first place we’ve had any hassle (e.g. people offering drugs, someone took a little too much interest in my camera at one point), but we’ve had no actual problems.

The old city centre is very grand, with some really cool big buildings and streets paved with cobblestones. Sometimes, patterns are made from black and white stones, creating mosaics on the street. I remember seeing this in Granada, Spain, 10 years ago and loved it, and have seen smaller, less impressive versions so far on this trip. Some of the patterns are incredibly detailed. I see great cross-stitch patterns coming out of these! The streets in the city centre are big and in a grid, and buildings are generally well maintained. Above the city is the castle, and near here the streets twist and wind up the hill. Buildings near the castle are more shabby and decaying, but this seems to just be the way of it in Portugal! Plenty of places were lived in, just not well maintained. The fronts of buildings were covered in tiles, ranging from blue and white azulejos, to 70s inspired (or perhaps 70s-inspiring!!) greens and yellows with patterns. The streets in the old centre are all lit with big decorative lamps that make for great photos. We discovered the world’s most beautiful lift, made from metal in a Victorian-style, and leading up to a viewing platform over the city. We came back here for sunset and night photos, but Lisbon just doesn’t seem easy to capture. We treated ourselves to a nice meal to meet the challenge set by my work colleagues, who donated some euros and suggested they be spent on a nice meal. We ordered a very local dish of grilled sardines, accompanied by a jug of sangria. The fish were superb, very fresh and huge and grilled with just rock salt, and the sangria was cold and delicious. Thanks guys!! Today we visited the World Heritage-listed monastery and fort on the riverside. The monastery is massive, with some cool gargoyles, but I found it uninspiring – maybe I’m just getting Europed-out? The fort was more interesting, for its in-the-water location, Templar-knight history and Moorish-influenced architecture. We haven’t spent a lot of time exploring Lisbon, just the main tourist areas. We seemed to get a feel for the old city rather quickly and didn’t feel the need to explore any further, so have decided to move on tomorrow.

Costs have changed a lot over the last few weeks. France had very cheap municipal campgrounds but expensive food (similar to Switzerland) and fuel. Spain had expensive campgrounds, costing nearly double the French campgrounds (around 16-17 euros), but food and fuel were cheaper. Portugal seems to be a mix of the two - food is cheaper than Spain but camping costs almost the same (fluctuates a lot), and fuel costs are like France. Spanish and Portuguese campgrounds are big, busy and noisy, and people seem to want lots of comfort and set up their enclaves for the long haul camp (though not as bad as the British with their privacy barriers and giant tents!). A bar and restaurant in the campground seems to be a requirement in Spain and Portugal, and frequently there’s a swimming pool too. And I always thought camping was supposed to get you away from everything…

Saturday, 15 August 2009

He says – Porto not my drink thanks.

14-15 August 09

From our little riverside campground we went to Porto the 2nd biggest city in Portugal and the namesake of the drink. My estimation was that is was the Birmingham of Portugal. Tam liked the “grubby chic-ness” of the place. To me it was just like being in Venezuela or Brazil with out the 3rd world charm. We spent the day walking though narrow streets looking at run down houses with the laundry

hanging out the window.

It simply never grabbed me. It is not a bad place but it is not a nice place. After a few hours of that, we decided to head to the country again for a nice quiet campground and some peaceful rest out of the city.

What we found was the worse campsite ever.. noisy expensive at 16€ per night, the showers smelled like urine, and the people!…. The couple on our right were engaged in a yelling/crying match until 0400h, the people on our left were the Portugal version of the CHAV. Mobile phone music, footy shirts, muffin-toppers, tracky daks, chav-kinis the works.. uggg…To make things even more unpleasant almost everyone was scowling at us and the bike like we were the ones making all the noise. Maybe it was the British plates, or maybe it was the lack of CHAV in us but anyway you look at we were not made to feel welcome. It was a pretty enough place but the feeling and the enviroment was basically bad.. I left there thinking the Portugal had adopted the worst of England and threw everything else away. At this point I did not like Portugal at all.

The plan for the next day was to head for Lisbon although we would stop in a little town (Alcobaca ) so that we could arrive in the big city fresh. For the first time I was not looking forward to it. Prior to this I was excited to see Lisbon, I had heard a lot of good things about it. I was afraid it was a case of Royal Nunsuch.

On route we met a guy at a petrol station that was used to dealing with Brits in the Algarve and had a chuckle about how they create sports and then never win at them again! (Ironically, the ashes were just about to start).

Thursday, 13 August 2009

She Says - Northern Portugal

11-13 August
We crossed into central Portugal fairly early, passing a proper border post that was manned only by charity collectors! Obviously it was just a leftover structure from the pre-EU days. Having decided to head north then work our way south, but not really sure where to head as our guidebook gave little information for the north, we followed signs to a historic town for lunch. Great, I thought, if this is what the place is all going to be like I’m going to love it here! We headed up an increasingly thin and winding cobbled laneway, past old castle walls and stone houses, to a lookout point at the top of town. The buildings I found particularly interesting because their door- and window-frames were made from solid stone blocks. We enjoyed a quiet lunch looking over the stark desert-like landscape, overseen by a curious bird-of-prey, a giant black bumblebee with iridescent blue wings, and a yellow-and-black butterfly. Trusting our GPS list of campsites, we headed inland for a lakeside campground that actually existed! At first thinking it was just a public swimming pool, it turned out the campground pool was open to the public, with the quiet and well-priced campground on the hill behind. The lake itself wasn’t very attractive, so we didn’t spend any time exploring and headed straight the next morning for the north coast.

Using a brochure from the campground as a guide, we stopped in Lamego, a pretty historic city with a castle and an impressive staircase up to a church. A tree-lined avenue in the middle of town leads up to a series of stairs and viewing platforms, each one a little different in style to the last. To the sides were forest walks and grottos, while the secondlast set of stairs opened onto a plaza surrounded by statues. A final set of stairs led from here to the church, which turned out to be dedicated entirely to the Virgin Mary. It was quite bizarre entering a church that had very few depictions of Jesus, while everything else was of Mary – big statues, artwork, stained glass, everything! I’ve since learned that Mary is the parton saint of Portugal, the Nossa Senhora de la Conception, and there is a lot of dedication to her around the country, including festivals. We had lunch in Lomego, then set off onto the toll roads to get ourselves up to the coast. While not really wanting to pay for road use, we decided highways were the most efficient way to get around, and it turns out pricing is very reasonable. Just past Lamego, we travelled over valleys into the World Heritage-listed wine country of the Douro Valley. These heavily terraced valleys of olive trees and port wine vineyards were beautiful for their intense cultivation and vivid green colours. It was truly a man-made landscape. I wished we could have stopped to explore, but our GPS list showed limited camping options so we had to move on.

Our old guidebook had noted that Viana de Costelo was a reasonable beach resort, but either it was better 10 years ago or it was just a typical guidebook description, because the place was hideous! I wanted to run away as soon as we arrived, it made my skin crawl – huge apartment blocks and hotels, typical beach resort look is not my style. We followed our GPS list to some campsites north of town, only to find they were beaches! I guess people have entered sites suitable for campervans or those willing to risk beach camping. While I have no problem with beach camping, I don’t want to set up late at night and pack early each morning! And actually, we were looking for somewhere nice to chill for a few days. Frustrated, we headed back towards Viana, passing a hideous, massive campground – it even had waterslides! – and you could hear the noise from the road. Somehow we found signs to another campground, and what an amazing find it has turned out to be. Tucked away behind a small village, next to a river and full of more ‘normal’ campers, we found the right place to relax.

Needing a day off and not knowing what to go next, the next morning we had a lazy start to the day. After chatting to the Dutch family next to us, who let us look at their campground books and map of Portugal, and looking hard at our guidebook, we decided it was best to head south again and to buy a map ourselves as it listed campgrounds and gave us a better idea of what was out there to see. Our peaceful retreat has been somewhat disturbed, as a loud speaker system on the local church has been blasting pretty bad music all day, starting from last night (wow Mum, even Demis Roussos a few times!!). We know there is a public holiday coming up for Le Nossa Senhora de la Conception, and assume this may be some sort of lead up to the festivities. I kind of hope we’ll end up in a small town for the holiday and maybe see people in traditional dress or performing traditional dances. We got caught in a local festival in the Czech Republic 10 years ago, it was absolutely fantastic and I’d love that experience again. We walked around the river to see where the best place for swimming would be later in the heat, and walked over to a huge grocery store to stock up on a day’s worth of good eating – incredibly cheap, which made us very happy, including a big watermelon for only a few euros that would have cost us an arm and a leg back in Oz! After lunch, we swam in one of the best swimming spots ever. The river has been lightly dammed (more so at the other, much busier, end), creating a deep pool and little waterfalls that give you a fantastic back massage when you sit under them! The water was cold but refreshing and we had a lot of fun. We’d bought some pineapple and coconut juice and kept it cool in the river while swimming, pretending it was real pina colada. The river has been covered in beautiful little demoiselles (type of dragonfly) and it’s been very peaceful (waterfall drowned out sound of the loud speakers!) - a refreshing change to the last few days of hard travel! Travelling by motorbike, I get little exposure to the sun, and it appears I’ve been working on a nice truckers’ tan! My lower arms and neck are getting tanned where my t-shirts end, and my face is getting very freckly, with panda-eyes from my sunglasses.

We seem to chat to at least one person in every campground about the bike and our trip (not every place and it seems to be getting less the further we go from France). Often it’s with Dutch people, but that’s not surprising as their English is excellent, so I guess they feel comfortable to talk to us. It feels very weird to tell people about our trip, and to hand over our email and blog addresses to those who are interested in following what we’re doing, like it’s something really amazing. I mean, it IS amazing I guess, but I’ve admired many other people for their travels and never expected me to be the one getting the attention of fascinated people!! It’s very flattering (even if you can tell some people think we’re insane), and I hope a few people will contact us as a result to go onto the blog update email list and follow our travels after the brief contacts we’ve had with them.