We almost skipped Portugal, as we were in Northern Spain we considered cutting straight to southern Spain, maybe even to Barcelona, maybe just turn back and head towards Italy. But Neil has been to Portugal as a teenager and a couple of times with work and liked it. Plus what else do we have do?!
We decided to do a run from San Sebastian to Porto with one overnight stop (Our version of slumming it this time was a regular Ibis- no more budget crap!)
Northern Spain is a lot like Northern France. There’s a whole lot of nothing there! We’d go miles without seeing a single car on the road. And it’s not like we’re on some back road, we’re on a main motorway an hour from the countries capital city at 5.30 on a weekday. Spain’s equivalent of the M25 and no one is there!
We’d see masses of open flat space with the occasional abandoned building followed by a town crammed with high-rise flats, perilously built on the side of a cliff!
At a service station we may have encountered our first scammers. We parked next to a German car and Neil got out. – Those who know me, know I love a bit of disaster preparedness. I think if you prepare for the very worse outcome (and I’m talking nuclear war or coronal mass ejection from the sun – that sort of thing) getting scammed by a couple of Germans doesn’t seem like a terrible thing to happen.
Neil had been talking to them a while. I check for escape routes, hover my finger over the lock button and initiate my ‘anti car jacking’ plan (totally enjoying pretending I’m some sort of badass ninja in my imagination).
Neil gets back in and I lock the car. The young German couple have had all their belongings stolen and have no money, they need money to fill up their car to drive to Bilbao to get to an embassy. Probably a scam.
We take a hard look at them, they’re young, the girl is seriously pissed off. Could be because she has just had all her stuff stolen, could be because she is going to get knee-capped if her boyfriend doesn’t pay his drug baron’s henchman in an hour. Eitherway we decide to give them some money. We’d rather be scammed than allow scepticism and fear prevent kindness. Plus we might need the kindness of strangers if all our stuff gets stolen one day…. or maybe sooner, lets get out of here! We give them some biscuits too (because we’re super nice) and get out of there before the person collecting the money turns up! (Remember we can only negotiate drug deals in Spanish, Not German!)
The trip across Spain was long and a bit dull. But we found a town called Vagos! This service station had a small playground which was the highlight of Hugh’s trip so far.
About halfway across Spain it started to snow! SNOW!!! On our search for the sun!
This continued all the way to the Portuguese border!
But the further into Portugal we got, it warmed up (7 degrees in a matter of miles!)
We arrived at our new airbnb just outside Porto. We had decided to stay in the suburbs this time. Near a train station so we could access the town easily.
However, news had arrived that my brother and his wife had had their baby, Liana. So I popped on a plane at Porto airport (15 mins from our house) and was in Gatwick 2 hours later!
Spending time away from Hugh and Neil is a complicated mix of feelings. Mostly awful guilt but also guilty pleasure. I was only gone a few days but it was nice to stay with my Dad and be a kid again. I got to indulge in things like having my own bed, laying in the bath for an hour and getting lifts to my friends house!
It was also a good chance to do all those necessary jobs like go to the bank, open the post, check on the houses, buy supplies.
We also took an entire bag back home and dumped at John and Kaz’s! We know we have over packed. Most of it was Hugh’s toys. Big teddy bears we thought he couldn’t live without, an entire bag of Duplo which gets left EVERYWHERE at every place we stay. I’d rather saw off my arm than pick up another piece of Duplo (mild exaggeration).
There was half a library of his books. We’d also sold our car after moving out of our house and you wouldn’t believe what we are carting around from clearing it out. A manky old umbrella (still got that!), various hoodies and old shoes found in the boot, birthday and thank you cards for relatives (undelivered) found under car seats and season six of the X-Files found in the glove compartment. It’s reason for being in the car is a mystery worthy of Mulder and Scully themselves!
Meanwhile in Porto Neil and Hugh were having a great time. On the morning that they dropped me to the airport I negotiated a simple choice with Hugh “Would you rather get in the car or would you rather I feed you to a Lion?”
He picked the Lion. And he got real excited about it. He jumped in the car and went on about this bloody Lion all the way to the airport. When I landed at Gatwick Neil sent me this picture:
Porto and by extension, Portugal ended up being our favourite destination so far. It has a lot of pro’s:
- It produces Port
- The shops are always open… even up until 11pm on a Sunday!
- Everyone speaks English but not in a touristy way
- You can drive straight into town and park, in a lot of places its free
- Netflix has EVERYTHING, it’s better than UK and US combined!
- Modern and efficient airport with cheap flights home
- It’s warm and sunny!
What was interesting was the large number of abandoned homes. Our Airbnb was very close to the sea and there were lots of restaurants dotted along the sea front. There were a string of proper posh mansions on the beach front but some of them were completely abandoned – for years! The economic crash of 2008 hit Portugal pretty bad and by 2010 it applied for a bailout from the IMF. We only seem to recall Greece and Iceland hitting the headlines though! Things have been slow for the Portuguese since and there are now more properties than people in the country.
Other than the abandoned properties we didn’t see much evidence of hardship. All the houses we wanted to buy were still over €1 million! (Poor us).
We have a tradition and that is always visiting a Hard Rock Cafe. It started when Neil was a kid. He liked the restaurants because he is a cool rocker! He’d always get a T-Shirt or badge when he visited one. We can’t remember why but we thought it would be fun to collect a shot glass from a Hard Rock cafe each time we were in a city that had one.
This once spiralled into the epic new years resolution of 2013/14 where Neil had to arrange a group trip to three Hard Rock Cafes, in three Countries, in three days. BTASAT.
It’s also customary to order a Hurricane. Actually, it’s more like a sacred duty now. Another reason why Portugal is awesome. They let infants sit at the bar!
It was now 11am and we were feeling lightheaded and dehydrated with a slight sense of Deja vu.
As Porto is the home of Port we thought it only polite to visit a Quinta (we learned this means ‘big house’ in Spanish, we are smart now). Also, we are mildly intoxicated and the decision to go drink more is exacerbated by the decision to drink. It’s a vicious circle.
It was a short walk to the Quinta (see how casually we use our new word?)
Short walk my arse! It was 15 minutes of pure agony! You can’t appreciate how steep this incline was. And no one with size four feet and under thinks cobbles are a safe and efficient surface! This was pure agony.
But we had the promise of alcohol to keep us going!
We’ve done a few alcohol tours in our time! Champagne houses in Epernay and Distilleries in Kentucky and Tenneesee, so we know the drill. But we have never done it with a two year old! Guess who doesn’t enjoy learning about this history and production of wine? Hugh. I’m not going prejudge all two years or attribute it to his age but Hugh didn’t really care what grapes they used. Or the complex relationship between Portuguese growers and the English buyers in the 17th Century. He didn’t seem vaguely excited by the tasting session and was more taken with a peacock wandering around the grounds.
So we didn’t learn very much about Port at all. Except they make it in Porto. At the top of a painfully steep hill.
We actually wished this was full of water and Nurofen.