16 September 2018 Seville – Tavira – Faro
Today we crossed into Portugal and stopped at Tavira, a river side town in the Algarve region set on either side of the meandering Rio Gala. It is a charming little town with an old Roman bridge.
As we walked across the bridge there were men digging in the river bed and collecting handfuls of shells which looked like clams.
There were plenty of decent sized fish, possibly sea bass swimming near the bridge but no one was fishing.
As it was Sunday a lot of cafes and restaurants were closed, so we decided to continue to our destination Faro.
We arrived late in the afternoon in Faro and parked in Parque Natural da Ria Formosa carpark near the old town overlooking the water with several other motorhomes.
We walked through a part of the original Moorish wall along cobbled streets in the old town with its whitewashed buildings and square. In the square is Faro Cathedral built in the 13th century. Some sections of the city are dilapidated and run down but this adds to the charm of the town. We had a beautiful meal at Faz Gostos to celebrate our first night in Portugal. The food was absolutely delightful.
17 September 2018 Faro – Lisbon
As the weather is quite hot and muggy we have decided to head north to the cooler regions for a reprieve. Our motorhome is not equipped with an air conditioner to deal with the steamy nights. We arrived in Lisbon late in the afternoon and parked in a safe and secure motorhome site just across the river from Lisbon city and backing onto a park. There were about 10 other motorhomes parked here for the night.
18 September 2018 Lisbon
Today we walked about 300 metres to the metro station and caught the train into Lisbon crossing the River Tagus. We then changed trains and caught another train down to the river, went to an information centre and then walked along and through the cobbled streets to our destination Camoes Monument at Largo de Camoes for our Sandemans free guided walking tour. On the way we stopped at a restaurant and had lunch then proceeded up the hill to begin the tour.
There were about 40 people on the tour and we crossed the downtown of Lisbon and discovered its neighbourhoods of Baxia, Chiado, Cais do Sodre, Bica and Bairro Alto which were all reconstructed after the earthquake in 1755.
We obtained an insight into the city’s history and culture, walked up and down through colourful narrow alleys streets with cafes, shops and restaurants and passed many of Lisbon’s attractions including Ruined Gothic church destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, with an evocative roofless nave & museum. Earthquakes have led to this cathedral being rebuilt many times in different architectural styles.
One of the most intriguing attractions is the Elevador Santa Justa, a cast iron elevator with filigree details, built in 1902 to connect the lower streets with the higher Carmo Square.
The view of the city and surrounding neighbourhoods from the top of this lift is stunning. From here you can see the Torre de Belem which a Byzantine and Gothic tower standing out over the mouth of the Tejo, guarding the entrance to the city’s harbour. It is reached via a walkway raised out of the water on timbers, the tower is filled with intricate stonework and has wide Atlantic views.
Also occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic centre is Sao Jorge Castle which is a Moorish castle dating from the medieval period.
Throughout the walk we noticed many of the buildings have colourful glazed ceramic tiles known as azulejos, a dominant feature in every Portuguese city and village are dating as far back as the 13th century. They help to keep the building cooler during the summer and retain the heat in winter.
The walk ended by Praca do Comercio, a square with the Rua Augusta Arch, an ornate stone triumphal arch, completed in1875. It was built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. It has six columns and is adorned with statues of various historical figures.
On our way back to the train station the historic yellow wooden tram 28 came rumbling through the street absolutely packed with people. It is a vintage carriage dating from the 1930s and in any other city they would be housed in a museum, but here in Lisbon they are integral part of the public transport network because of the narrow and twisting streets. It runs from 7am to 11pm but is always crowded unless you board at the end of the line.
It was a great walking tour but exhausting walking up and down steep cobbled streets, so we headed back to the train station. On the way we found a bar and restaurant which had happy hour, so we stopped and had refreshments.
19 September 2018 Lisbon – Condiexa
- Peniche – Medao Grande Beach
After picking up Mark and Anastacia who are travelling with us to Porto, we headed to Peniche to see if the supertubos (tubular supertube waves) off Medao Grande Beach were pumping. This is the place where surfers and bodyboarders from across the world come in search of the waves. It is the setting for the major world surf championship, Rip Curl Pro Portugal, but today the waves were only about 1 metre high.
Next stop was Obidos, a quaint fortified town. We walked through the main gate with its beautiful blue and white 18th century glazed tiled chapel that overlooks the main thoroughfare into Obidos.
Then we walked along the battlements which completely encircle the town but there are many hazards and very little handrails with enormous drops.
However, from the walls there are lovely views over the terracotta tiled roofs and white painted houses of the town and the surrounding countryside.
From the walls you can also see the aqueduct which was constructed in the 16th century to transport water to the town.
We then walked along the narrow-cobbled streets with quaint houses and lined with a variety of shops, through the medieval castle which is now a luxurious hotel and had a taste of Ginja (sweet cherry liquor) served in an edible chocolate cup. It reminded me of a cherry ripe and was very delicious.
After lunch at a small café we headed to Penela to drop off our travelling companions and then to our campsite by the river for the night in the small town of Condiexa where there were 4 other motorhomes.
20 September 2018 Condiexa – Conimbriga – Porto
- Cicade romans de Conimbriga
After collecting our companions, we visited Cicade romans de Conimbriga, one of the largest Roman settlements excavated in Portugal and classified a National Monument in 1910. Conimbriga is a walled urban settlement, encircled by a curtain of stone structures approximately 1,500 metres long. It tells the poignant tale of a town that after centuries of security was split into two by quickly erected walls due to invading tribes and then entirely abandoned as the Roman Empire disintegrated.
It was occupied by Roman troops in 139 BC and grew during the next century to include some of the most important buildings for everyday life in a Roman city such as the forum, the amphitheatre, the aqueducts, homes of various heights, commercial shops and thermal baths and a three-nave basilica. We walked around the ruins visiting the remains of these great houses and their surroundings like Cantaber, the largest house in the city and the Swastika house with its geometric mosaics. We then strolled through buildings around these houses and walked under the aqueduct and through the tunnels of the amphitheatre. We noticed that excavations are continuing in the outer areas as there were 5 archaeologists working on a dig.
The last part of our visit in the Roman city was the wonderful gardens, The House of the Fountains, which still preserves the original hydraulic infrastructure with over five hundred water jets, surrounded by a magnificent set of mosaics representing hunting scenes, mythological passages, seasons, monsters, birds and sea animals. To see the water jets in action, we put 50 cents into a slot and the fountains sprang to life and lasted 1 minute. It is amazing to think that they still work after all this time.
There is also a visitors’ centre which displays objects found by archaeologists during their excavations, including coins, surgical tools, utensils and ceramics. It is a magnificent site and the area it covered is enormous.
Whilst we were walking around the ruins we ran into Sheryl Smith whom I taught with at Yugumbir about 15 years ago. She was taking a break from the Camino pilgrimage walk, which is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St James in Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain. It certainly is a small world.
Leaving the ruins behind we headed for Porto, a coastal city in northwest Portugal. After dropping off Mark and Anastacia we drove to our campsite for the next three nights on the Douro river across from Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia. When we arrived, there were only two places left with about 50 motorhomes already parked.
Tonight, we caught an uber into Porto and had dinner with Mark and Anastacia at a restaurant in the medieval Ribeira (riverside) district with a beautiful view of the river with boats and people passing by and a young guy singing great songs and playing his guitar.