11.10.2010 - 13.10.2010
The weather’s definitely getting better - and warmer - as we head south. We left Porto determined to stay off the bloody motorways that our pain-in-the-arse GPS seems intent on putting us on. We had a nice drive along a very rural main road south, passing village after village. As food seems so much cheaper here than in France, we stopped for lunch at what seemed to be a worker’s café cum eatery. It was very clean with a bar and very pleasant young women serving tables. We saw the six Euro fixed lunch and thought, “why not?”
What a feast! A hearty vegetable soup to start with, and mountains of bread. Main course was a traditional ‘Cozido a Portuguesa’ – many sorts of delicious stewed sausages and meats served with simple boiled potatoes, cabbage, carrots and rice. There was coffee for afters, and it was washed down with a carafe of white wine. Simply fantastic value! We emerged fit to burst.
The campsite at Figueira da Foz was another ‘Orbitur’ (the company seems to dominate the camping in Portugal, and is well set up and maintained, with free internet at every site). It was only an overnight stop, but I took a walk to the beach which was just beyond the gate at the rear of the complex. It was beautiful, just like the lonely white beaches in Western Australia.
We drove on south the next day and repeated the great lunch experience. We stopped at a small town hoping to get another cheapie meal. Well, it wasn’t as cheap, but then it wasn’t a workers’ caff either. What we walked into was a very nice restaurant – all white linen tablecloths and posh napkins. Worried that lunch might be a bit pricier than our budget would allow, we hesitated, until a young waitress approached us. Not wishing to appear cheap by walking out, we sat at a table and checked the menu.
While nothing was expensive, my eyes fell upon the ten euro tourist menu. We ordered two. There was the usual bread side plate; Ann had a small carafe of white wine while I had a Sagres beer. What we had for a main meal was one of the tastiest fish dishes I’ve ever eaten! It was a whole fish (called ‘dourada’ – no idea what it might be in English, but it was a nice oily fish). It was grilled to perfection and served simply with boiled spuds and green beans.
Included in the price was a dessert. We were offered a selection. Ann had a slice of a delicious carrot tart (most unlike the taste of our traditional carrot cake) and I had a light coffee mousse. Coffee was included (I passed) and that was it. We speculated that at a decent fish restaurant in Perth the dessert alone would have cost as much as the whole meal. Fantastic value!
We drove on to Nazaré and headed straight for the campsite. We woke next day to a promisingly warm one and continued our trek south. Lisbon wasn’t far away but I wasn’t really keen on driving to a huge town in the late afternoon, having to deal with all the usual traffic hassles. I aimed for an overnight stop at Alenquer, thirty or so kilometres short of Lisbon, with a view to an easy ride in. As it happened, Ann didn’t really want yet another ‘overnighter’ campsite (which she claims exhausts her); so as usual I relented. We stopped for lunch just outside Alenquer, and then I braved the drive in to the big city.
It was turning into a beautiful day weatherwise as we approached Lisbon on the secondary roads. They’ve been excellent by and large, with long easy stretches making for a more relaxed drive.
For a couple of days we’d wondered why it was that every now and then on the side of peaceful tree-lined roads, there’d appear a young woman sat down looking as though she might be taking down car number plates. For the most part they seemed modestly dressed – one we saw could have been a German or Dutch tourist, dressed in jeans with blonde hair tied back in a pony tail.
We chuckled at the thought that they might be prossies, but dismissed it as they didn’t seem like the type of street girls they portray on the telly – all leather skirts and attitude. Still it remained a bit of a mystery.
That was until we noticed a very telling scene. About ten kilometres north of Alenquer on the right hand side of the road in a small clearing, there was a truck parked. Walking away from it was a pretty young woman in a very short white skirt, hoiking up a scant top over her very ample breasts.
“No way is that his niece!” I thought as we drove past, exchanging knowing looks. A little further on a car was parked by the side of the road with what clearly looked like a young woman soliciting through the passenger window. And further on again, there was a black girl standing watching us drive by, looking a little more like your typical street girl.
I found it quite amusing the thought that on such lovely shady country roads the whole business of prostitution was clearly thriving. As sordid as the whole business is (a point on which I agreed with Ann, although unlike me she couldn’t see the funny side of it), it happens whether we like it or not.
We drove on into Lisbon through its sprawling outskirts on a lovely early afternoon. We passed the magnificent Vasco da Gama bridge on a highway that was easy to negotiate. We arrived in the vicinity of Monsanto, the location of the municipal camping site that Iain and Anne had recommended. The GPS could only give us an approximate location; so we had fingers crossed.
Just for future reference, crossed fingers don’t work. After a futile attempt to see a camping sign, we drove aimlessly around looking for clues – none was forthcoming. On the Estrada da Circunvalação (the destination on the GPS), I parked up and walked into a chemist’s. The attractive young woman behind the counter went to great lengths to try to explain where the site was, even printing out a Google map for me. She seemed hesitant though, hinting at a lack of confidence in our ability to find the place (smart girl I thought!). I soon discovered why. She’d given us a street as near as she could to the site; so I knew the GPS had to take us there. The trouble was there was so much roadworks going on that the GPS didn’t recognise any of the diversions, new roundabouts or blocked streets. We ended up in a cul-de-sac in a residential area with me cursing myself (and Ann) for not having left Lisbon till tomorrow.
Finally however a sign for ‘Campismo’ appeared. We eagerly followed it, although often at junctions we had to guess which direction we were supposed to go. Another sign appeared – we followed. We then drove a considerable distance to the side of the motorway. Fearful that we’d end up driving into it, I said in frustration that if we didn’t find the place within half an hour, I’d drive out to the coast and find another campsite.
Just when all hope seemed lost, a last sign tantalizingly close to the motorway led us down a large cul-de-sac, at the end of which was a very large campsite!