We spent the last couple of days at a lovely campsite at Quinta do Rebentão in Chaves. It is run by the Chaves camping club and is obviously designed and maintained by people who actually use campsites. You’d be surprised how many aren’t.
Much of our time was spent babysitting the washing machine during its epic wash cycles, or working out how to dry all the washing now the rain had started, but we did have a trip into Chaves to check out the fort and Roman bridge and their artistic use of corrugated iron as a building material.
So on to the good, the bad and the ugly of Portugal…
Where to begin?
• The coffee – very short, very strong and very sweet. And about 60c. What’s not to like?
• Pastel de nata – Portuguese custard tarts. One of the yummiest sweet things ever. Even custard-phobe D is a convert.
• Wonderful scenery – the open plains of Alentejo, beautiful Atlantic coast, stunning mountains.
• The towns – every one seems to have a lovely little square or public space, with at least a couple of cafes to sit and watch the world go by. Plus a public garden (often a wifi zone) and something interesting to see – a tiled church, Moorish castle, Roman ruin etc.
• The interesting things to see are often free or, if not, very cheap.
• The people – everyone we met was warm, friendly and helpful. If we met anyone having a bad day, I don’t remember it.
• The supermarkets have a great range of food for vegetarians. Beans are a big part of Portuguese cuisine (although they are often accompanied by pork of some description) and we found all kinds of things I didn’t expect to find (nutritional yeast anyone?).
• The weather – we had little rain, lots of sunshine and pretty good temperatures for most of our 4 months or so in Portugal and we didn’t even have to go to the Algarve!
• For a nation with such a great history of navigation, finding your way around can be surprisingly tricky. Road numbers aren’t put on signs at junctions so you have to have your wits about you, or not be bothered about looking daft as you drive around the roundabout trying to work out which way to go – we eventually plumped for the second option. Some roads just aren’t on the maps at all – we’ve all but given up on our ‘road atlas’, but I did find a 2012 edition a couple of days ago which didn’t show the motorway we had driven on a few days earlier. It isn’t even shown as being under construction! We also found several tourist maps that were out of date (the tourist office that had given us the map wasn’t where the map said it was) or just wrong (the ‘You Are Here’ worn bit on the map was clearly not where we were). If we asked for directions, we often had to point out where we were to the local person struggling to make head or tail of the map. The vet in Beja couldn’t work out where he was – D joked about Vasco da Gama and navigation but the vet quite rightly pointed out that Vasco da Gama didn’t actually have a map. Maybe all Portuguese are charting new territory!
• Bacalhau. Maybe it is one of those things you only appreciate if you grew up with it, like jellied eels or bread and dripping. Our regular readers will know that bacalhau is dried salt cod, usually sold in huge rock-hard pieces and piled high on tables in the supermarket, smelling of wet dog. D’s Grandpa tells a story, from when he was in the merchant navy, about finding the ship’s cook playing cricket in the galley. He was using a piece of bacalhau as the cricket bat. To be fair of course, we haven’t actually eaten it, but even Aussie Dad & Jan have wimped out of trying that particular national dish. I did see a cookbook called ‘1001 recipes for bacalhau’ but, given that it was in Portuguese, even I couldn’t justify adding that to my collection. Phew.
• I think the Umm (a Portuguese jeep) is ugly. D doesn’t. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
And that is it. Portugal is a fantastic country, but all that most people (certainly from the UK) know about it is the Algarve. Maybe that is OK – leaves the rest of it for us to enjoy!