2018 Vintage Portugal

In August we’re off to Portugal. As I explained on the home page, Maria and José Romao de Sousa are organising a tour for a select few friends and we are flattered to have been included in this very special group. It is a small groupof just 15 cars and we have met and made friends with several of them on other rallys around the world.

We are setting off from home at the end of August for the ferry from Cork to Santander in Spain. From there we’re gently touring on our own across Asturias and Cantabria to finish up in Porto a couple of days before the start so that we can see the sights and catch up on essentials like servicing the car and just as importantly, laundry.

The event proper starts on 10th September and finishes nine days later in Lisbon. From there we’ll take just a couple of days to get further south to near Estepona in the Sout h of Spain for a quiet spell and from where the car can be shipped back to UK for a reasonable price for a proper service and check-up before shipping off to the next event.

Hopefully I will be able to keep up with daily blogs and photographs but, in the meantime, here are three images with grateful thanks to the rally organisers, Tour de Force Adventure Logistics.

10th August 2018

Just a quick update. We are still waiting for the Talbot to return from hospital after it’s major heart surgery. Since about March we’ve been promised and promised again and again that it is nearly finished and to be honest, we are both a bit fed up with the whole performance. Not just the late preparation but missing tools that turned up in a friend’s car, and boots that have simply vanished. Whatever, we are sort of half hopeful that it will be here tomorrow, 11th August. It hasn’t been in it’s garage here at home since the end of January 2017.

We have planned a route through Spain that roughly follows part of one that we took 15 years ago. Now, though, we have a new ferry from Cork to Santander so there won’t be that horrible trek down through England to Plymouth to board the ferry. We have picked a selection of hotels that are all a bit unusual but you’ll have to follow our posts to find out more.

The organisers, Tour de Force Adventure Logistics have been providing us with excellent information so we’re looking forward to this event. There are only fifteen cars but we know just about everyone from various different events around the world.

Mercedes 230SL Pagoda 1966

Mercedes 450 SLC 1976

Riley 12/4 Special 1936

Jaguar E-Type

Bentley S1 Drophead 1957

Jaguar E-Type S3

Talbot AV105 Alpine 1934

MGA 1600 Deluxe 1959

Mercedes 350 SL

Bentley 4 1/2 Ltr

Jaguar XK150 DHC

Aston Martin DB6 DHC Volante 1967

Mercedes 300 SL 1986

Bristol 401

Chevrolet Corvette 1960

And here’s a better map of the tour route:

This is our host’s beautiful 1960 Corvette:

And this is us getting into training for Portugal – Pastéis de Nata. (Portugese Custard Tarts)

14th August:

It must be my birthday or something.
This morning Ulidia arrived back after her extended stay in the nursing home after major heart surgery. Actually, it was quite a bit more than that as a lot of the hairpin springs in the gearbox were part broken and the first gear drive band was almost completely worn out. The camshaft was also damaged by a flying chip from the crankshaft so that had to be replaced too. And because it was a new crank, all new big end and main bearings along with new conrods which also meant new pistions and finally, because it was a new cam, new bearings for that. To top it all, I was very dismayed to see it arrive on the back of a break-down truck; after all, it was supposed to be driven from the ferry to here but no, one of the petrol pumps gave up at the end of the motorway, in the middle of the rush-hour.
I’ve said it before but there must be a special gremlin bred to infest cars being prepared for rallying and they only strike at the very last minute.
Still, no harm done. We always carry a spare petrol pump and that very nice Mr Schumacher attended to the gearbox when the engine was out of the chassis so everything is ticketyboo again. All we have to do now is sort out tools, packing and swap the tyres over for another 4,500 km. This time, instead of Michelins, we’re trying Dunlop Racing. Despite their name, they are road legal and I’ve been told have lots more grip and are also a bit more durable too. The downside is that the rolling diameter is a bit smaller so now I’ll have to go out and drive up and down several times on a police measured mile then do the calculations to see what cogs I need for our Halda trip meter.

28th August:

Remember I made a rash comment about rally car gremlins a couple of weeks ago? Well, my particular gremlins have been having a real ball. Since the car returned, I’ve had to take out the seats and floorboards to get at the battery box because the VERY EXPENSIVE battery I bought in Japan sprung a leak and the acid began eating away at the garage floor, not to mention the battery box. When I was in there I noticed that the special connector we paid to have installed wasn’t actually in touch with the battery. Beside it but not actually connected. I fixed that problem and then had to modify the battery box lid so that it could close with all the extra cables in there. When the seats were out I also squirreled up under the dash panel (remember Spain three years ago? That led to surgery) to replace the relay for the hazard warning lamps. I also had to replace lots of mounting bolts for the floorboards that simply hadn’t been replaced after the engine was re-installed. Yesterday I was able to run the car out for a while and the brakes are pulling badly to the right which is an easy fix – but I shouldn’t have to do it. When I finally got home, the radiator was peeing out coolant so that had to come out for repair. Being a Talbot, this is, of course, not a simple job. Anyway, my old chum Hugh received the blooming thing this morning and I collected it this afternoon. It is back in and tomorrow I’ll finish the job and test the car again before giving her an oil change. I hope everything is OK because I have a lot more packing to do because we’re on the ferry in Cork on Friday night!

30th August:

Well, we’re on the road at last. First leg of the trip is over and I’m typing this at our overnight break on the drive to Cork from the Crystal Hotel in Cavan and it’s not as bad as it sounds thank goodness. We didn’t leave home as early as we wanted because of a last minute discussion about the ability of our Talbot. If you remember, it was returned to us last Tuesday and I’ve been busy rectifying lots of little issues. I finally managed to get it out for a proper run yesterday and the brakes are still snatching quite badly to the right yet the left front is binding on too much. Not only that but it is over-heating quite a bit more than I would like considering we’ll be tackling some serious hills (mountains) in Spain and Portugal next week with hopefully a bit warmer weather. What is perhaps more of a concern, the poor motor could barely get up the hill to our house; coughing and farting and barely pulling at all.
So, the decision was made last night that Ulidia wasn’t coming to the Iberian Peninsula this time. I’m drafting my letter over the next few days to the person responsible. OK some of you might say, what about the MG PA? We have taken that to Luxembourg in the past but there is more luggage capacity on a touring motorbike and the supercharger wrecked my ears years ago so that’s not on. Penny’s TC would be fine but it’s a bit cramped for us and baggage for a month away and the MG BGT isn’t a runner yet. Last resort – Penny’s Audi TT, I’m afraid. Panic re-packing and re-booking on the ferry and everything is now ticketyboo. Except! It is handy for us when we’re travelling to have two keys so that one can return to the car for any of a multitude of reasons and the spare key hasn’t been used since she bought the car. Two hours in Audi Belfast to re-programme the key – from Germany – and also to find out that Audi don’t have a mask for the headlamps for driving on the wrong side. Leaving Belfast in the rush hour reminded me why I don’t work there any more!
The important thing is that we’re off for a couple of weeks with good friends in the sun; wine, driving (not at the same time), comradeship and spectacular scenery is what we’re going for.

2nd September:

First day in Spain. Off the ferry at eight o’clock sharp, turn right and off we go. None of the messing around and getting a bit lost like the last time. First motorway services, we hads some freshly squeezed Zumo de Naranja (orange juice), a hot croissant filled with cheese and ham finished off with a rather nice cafe con leche (milky coffee). As we were finishing off, in pours quite a few of the other tourists heading towards Asturias. We had a pleasant drive for a bit then found a carwash to get the salt spray off the car then a nice Cafe Cortado (espresso with hot foamy milk) then it was time to put the hood down. We had lunch at the Ribadesella paleolithic cafe complex but the only available tour left was at 16:00 so we pressed on to spectacular Cabo Vidio. In the nearby village we stopped for an ice cream and stepped back about 50 years in time. The bar / cafe also had one of those general stores that used to be so common in Ireland but just don’t exist any more.
We finished the day with a wonderful drive on the old road under and around the new motorway to tonight’s lodging; the very pleasant Torre de Villademoros on the wild north coast. The road was so good that we started playing at setting a really long regularity and deciding where would be good hidden places for marshalls for about half a dozen speed changes.

3rd September:

Last night was in a superb small Asturian converted farmhouse. Maybe just ten rooms and we were looked after like visiting cousins. Wonderful sunset as we enjoyed dinner then off on the road this morning. Just about ten minutes or so from the motorway but thankfully we only had about ten minutes of rush hour to endure. I think we saw no more than about twenty other vehicles before we pulled off to drive up the Valle del Navia. towards tonight’s stop at Lugo. As you can see, the road is very wiggly and we didn’t bother 4th, 5th or 6th gears too much but it was a wonderful drive on an excellent road with almost no traffic. The highest point was about 3,500 ft. Coffee at the village of Pezos then lunch in Castroverde in a proper local Spanish worker’s restaurant. No selection, just “Menu del Dia” so I had a lentil soup followed by fried pork sirloin while Penny had mixed salad and Hake. We didn’t bother with the pudding or wine (all in) and we were delighted to pay just €20 for both of us.
We arrived in Lugo in mid afternoon and drove around the Roman walls a couple of times trying to find the right way in but with no luck. Eventually we ‘phoned and were told we could drive in through one of the pedestrian gates and once we’d done that we found the Hotel Paso de Orban almost immediately. The first pic is of the Torres de Villledemoros with our room either side of the plaque above the door. Then the route up and over the mountains. The panorama is just the small part of the Roman walls visible from our room. And the last one is outside the Paso de Orban in Lugo.

that’s our room – the big balcony and the one on the right, seen from the Roman wall – under the arch at the bottom is an original horse trough

4th September:

Tuesday started grey and damp. We thought we’d go for a quick march around half of the Roman walls at Lugo but the weather wasn’t playing fair. Lazy breakfast then off we set. Penny decided to go back to Pazo de Oca to have a second look at the Galician Manor House gardens we first visited 15 years ago. They haven’t changed that much. There’s obviously a lot of new planting but the feel of the place is very much the same. A nice place for quiet contemplation. The first time we went, we weren’t sure we were at the right place until a maid came out, relieved us of two pesetas, let us in and scuttled off. This time it was €6 and we couldn’t park at the door.
From there we had a bit of motorway and a nice bit of cross country to tonights stopover, Celanova. A totally unremarkable little Spanish town and all the better for it. The room is half the rate of last night but perfect all the same. Paseo in the town square tonight before something to eat. Portugal tomorrow!
The first night is last night’s dining. The best way in Spain, on the street. Then there are a few shots of the Galician Garden: The stone ship with the cannon pouring water, the black swan, some more water features and Penny standing in the laundry. I have a bit of video that I’ll look at. Hopefully it will show the scary, narrow streets inside the Roman walls and then a drive around the outside.

5th September:

Last night was spent in the totally unremarkable little town of Celanova. Our hotel was the only one in town and right on the street and didn’t do catering. Room only. We went up to the Plaza Mayor for a drink and to have a look around for somewhere to eat and there wasn’t! Plenty of bars, very few Tapas. We ended up in a cafe with burger and chips. Google reviews suggested that the other “best” eatery was the pizza joint but that the boss was permanently drunk. The air was very heavy with dark grey skies and thunder rumbling all around the hills but the forcast electric storm didn’t happen. Mind you, they did start washing the pavements at six o’clock which rather cut short our beauty sleep.
Today’s drive was up and over the mountains into Portugal. Spanish side – smooth well engineered roads. Portugese side – very rough, narrow tracks until we got a bit lower and closer to civilisation. We stopped and had a wander around some more Roman ruins on the way and arrived early at the Mosteiro de Amares. Founded by a pair of hermits who thought they’d seen the Virgin so created a refuge then the fine edifice (13C) we have nowand and a very fine Pousada Hotel it is too. As I type this, another thunder storm has started. Not the slow rumbles around the sky but really loud short, sharp cracks that make you jump.

Here’s us driving through and around the Roman Walls of Lugo:

Here’s the video of us driving through Valle de Navia::

7th September:

Sorry there was no post last night. We wandered on from Amares by small roads to the town of Ponte de Lima to have a look at a garden exhibition. We’d been told about this by our son-in-law Mike, because a couple of his chums at college had designed a show garden there. It was worth the trip but there were also some weird and wonderful ideas on display. We then trundled on to the coast for a nice lunch at what could easily have been mistaken for Miami or even Southend on Sea (if your eyesight isn’t very good).
We are staying for a couple of days in an apartment and doing nothing but being tourists in a city we’ve never seen before. The pictures are of the morning mists in the mountains and the second is of the Gloucester College show garden.

7th Sept (pt 2):

For today, just some tourist sights from Porto. Igreja do Carmo (the Carmelite Church); The famous tinned sardine shop, The old city from the opposite bank where the port houses are and a tiny bit of the Eiffel bridge – designed by the same chap as the Paris tower!

8th September:

Tourist time again. We spent the day in the Fundacao Serralves; once an Art Deco pink mansion, now a public garden and an important museum of art. It was pretty spectactular but in only confirmed that we haven’t had sufficient training in “art” to even begin to understand what it was all about. Quite honestly, some of the exhibits only proved, in my opinion, that the responsible artists should seek therapy pretty urgently. Tonight we will be dining in having explored the nether regions of a supermarket across the road from our apartmnent.

some of Anish Kapoor’s studies for monumental art around the world
yes this is “ART” – more worringly, the registration is Northern Irish!
and here’s a bit of art for Penny’s gardening; and Gail and Mike

Here’s our little Town House in Porto. We have a super ground floor apartment at the back, away from the street noise with two terraces. Last night we dined in their own restaurant and the food was probably the best so far on this trip.

9th September:

A bit more tourisim today. We must have turned left, got lost and ended up in Venice. Actually Aveiro. on the coast, a bit south of Porto and often called The Venice of Portugal. Nice lunch then back to town for a special night out with our hosts before things start properly tomorrow.

10th September:

11th September:

Sorry there was no post yesterday, it was a bit rushed all afternoon. After the briefing (thanks Charlie for your post), we were entertained to dinner in central Porto at “The Factory House”. Now, that might sound a bit mundane or industrial to most folk but it is, in fact, a smallish palace that is maintained by the English Port Wine Families. I think there are just seven left and we were hosted by Natasha, the current treasurer of the organisation.
After a very amusing guided tour the whole rally sat down to a sumptious dinner with ample samplings of their own product. After dessert, we were urged to rise, then walk through two doors at the end of the room into another dining room but this time purely for the sole purpose of consuming the principal product. What a night!
Today we had an easy start with a pleasant drive up the Douro valley, over a mountain or two and an early finish in the Six Senses Spa somewhere upstream at Lamego.
Oh dear! We have to endure another wine tasting tonight before we have our BBQ. Life’s tough, isn’t it?
The photos begin with a couple of images from the cellars then our host explaining details in the map room. The whole party at one table – with one table cloth – and then at the port table, toasting Her Majesty. Finally, the exterior of the Factory House.

12th September:

At last night’s hotel we all had our own “GEMs” – any idea what one of those is? To be honest, neither did we but it seems they are essential in (probably) very expensive spa wellness hotels where, incidentally, we also had a climbing tree in the garden to rediscover your inner child. We were treated to a superb BBQ under the stars with octopus, lamb and lots of other stuff and this after a wine tasting by the way. Today’s run was quite short to one of the most prestigious Quintas or Port estates owned and run by the Symington family for generations. We had a tour of the harvesting and pressing shed (one of the very few who still use trampling by foot) another wine tasting (one of the bottles was over £100!) and a superb picnic under a grapefruit tree in fruit garden.
Tonight we are being taken for a surprise walk to a dinner among some ruins, or so I’ve been told.
Pictures: The wine tasting table before we destroyed it, Duncan at the BBQ briefing us on today’s drive, the beautiful Douro valley, a couple of very nice cars in our party, taking a break, a breather in the shade at Quinta de Vesuvio – the Symington estate, a detail in the shed, some of the casks, this one holds 10,650 litres of 2016 Vintage – last checked in May this year, the keys to the shed and a bunch of Port grapes.

13th September:

For those of you who are interested, “GEM” is “Guest Experience Maker” and no, I don’t know what they do either.

Last night we were treated to another meal under the stars. We had a walk of about half an hour up and down on a rough(ish) path to a field in an archaeological park and were educated by one of the guides, Antonio. We were welcomed not with G&T but P&T. Twice as refreshing and super delicious, chilled white Port with ice, lemon and tonic is the drink for me from now on. After the meal, our group leader decided it was time to begin “party pieces”, a ten minute bit of entertainment and or education by a different person each night. Guess who the star attraction was – Your’s truly, no less. I began by comparing our surroundings with artefacts around 5,000 years old with some of our chambered cairns and things like Newgrange at home being structures up to 10,000 years old. A few words about the monks who founded a priory in Sanctus Boscus (Holywood) in the ninth century then a wee bit of more modern history through Penny’s connections with the oldest English language daily newspaper in the world and the Irish linen trade through Ewarts. This was really just a preamble to my recital of “The Ballad of William Bloat” by Raymond Calvert. It is a bit of doggerel about Irish Linen and if you don’t know it, I might be persuaded to put it on here. Anyway, the sort of folk who know this bit of nonsense know how it finishes and blow me, the whole party from various Euroland countries, N America, not to mention the UK all worked out the last line for themselves and there was a rousing “But the sheet was made from Irish Linen!” to finish off. All great fun. One silly person asked afterwards if there was any more like it and I did threaten, if they really can’t find anything else, to give them “The Diagonal Steam Trap” about the Belfast Shipyard (sort of).

Today’s drive took us fropm Longroiva up to over 6,000 feet on a stupendous road then down again to the village of Gouveia (I think). a tour of a wollen factory then lunch at the hotel (still above 4,000 ft) rounded off today’s drive in Serra Estrella.

can you see the road winding around the mountain in the distance?

14th September:

For some reason we had an unusually early start but the fresh clean air in the mountain just after sunrise was totally invigorating.

Today’s drive was from Serra Estrella to Cotas. Just over 180 km. Again we meandered up and over several mountain passes. Each one different but every one, as usual, had an even better road than the one before which I know sounds impossible but, so what if it felt that way? Some valleys were lush and green while others have been ravaged by forest fires either last year or this. To see single houses or small hamlets untouched but with charred and desolated forest within a couple of metres brings home just how frightening it must have been. We stopped for coffee at a Quinta in Aldeia daz Dez and were told how the family sheltered in their swimming pool as the inferno raged around – thankfully not touching their home. One particular mountain was completely bare; totally dead with no standing tree stumps or greenery to see.

We motored on, up and down with almost no other traffic to worry about. We passed by and through beautiful villages and were heartened to always receive a friendly wave or even just a nod from the folk we passed bay. We always received a fulsom cheer and a thumbs up from the road workers either mending the highway or trimming the grass verges.

Tonights quarters are not your usual hotel. A couple of guys bought a derelict, abandonded stone village near the top of a mountain and have been working hard restoring and renovating the houses. Each one is now a bedroom for between two and four people with a kitchen, lounge, WiFi, TV and all the extras. We are sharing “Casa do Loureiro” with Richard Worts and Nicola Shackelton who we first came across on the Peking to Paris eleven years ago. We had a chat with one of the owners a while ago and he warned us that if we are going for a walk in the countryside to very wary of the extremely dangerous rabbits around these parts, They have huge vicious teeth and long bushy tails and they behave like wildcats and jump on you from the trees if they are surprised. He was of course joking about the local squirrels!

Penny is resting in a hammock in the garden while I type this then we’re off for dinner a few yards up the street.

Tomorrow is a big drive further South to Estremoz so more then and maybe a few photographs of tonight’s “Villa Pedra” (Stone Village).

15th September:

Today we had a trip of about 250km from Cotas to Estremoz.

Again the route took us up and down mountains and valleys towards the Zêzere valley before we finally leveled out on the plains of the Alentejo region. Lunch was a lovely buffet in a restaurant overlooking the river Ocreza at the Vale de Moura restaurant. Believe it or not, this place is owned and run by a retired RUC offcer from Belfast. Amazing. As we finally made our way towards what was described as being the next best thing to the East African Savannah and I must say that it is a pretty good comparison. Big skies and even bigger panoramas.

Tonight we are in the 13th Century palace of Alfonso III and that is inside the even more impressive fortifications.

Tonight’s pics: Penny in the hammock last night; a couple of street views and our front door in the stone village; two panoramas, the first from King Vamba’s Castle, overlooking an incredibly narrow gorge and the second overlooking Castelo de Vide and the last two are the view from our room into a courtyard and the tower above it. Tonight, more fine dining at the Româo de Sousa’s summer home nearby and tomorrow we head in a large loop to the west then back east to Monsaraz.

16th September:

Last night we were thoroughly entertained at José and Maria’s summer house. Ever picked up one of those “Art” architecture magazines in a waiting room? This was straight off the front cover. Based around three ancient barns (yes, really) it is their wonderful country retreat. Extraordinary food and entertained by a superb harpist, we completely enjoyed ourselves.

We left Estremoz quite late, about 9 o’clock this morning and just over an hour later, at an organised coffee stop, we were given a short introduction to the megalithic landscape around us. Shortly after another very short drive we all had a look at a stone circle, a sort of mini Stonehenge. Her details and descriptions were a bit “new age” for me, talking as she did about “shepherd’s crook” carvings, “embracing” the stones and such like and her approximate ages of the features around us jumped about a bit too. Being in Portugal, she obviously had to emphasise the importance of her local attractions but to say they were more important or older than, for instance, Skara Brae or Newgrange is a bit of an leap of imagination.

Anyway, another drive in ever increasing temperatures brought us to Restaurant O Ricardo. A marvellous, small, family run affair that was alive with families out for Sunday lunch. We had only a short wait before sitting down to an exquisite local dish – slow boiled pigs cheeks. Much, much better than it sounds and one to look for again.

I’m afraid we skipped the coffee and cake stop under some trees with an opportunity to see another 8,000 year old cairn burial chamber because the temperature was hovering around 35 deg C (100 F) all afternoon so we dripped on to our hotel for the next couple of nghts: São Lourenço do Barracol. It looks like it’s a bit of an agro theme park with farm cottages, barns and stuff but it is really a very top end hotel. Considering the room rates, I’d expect the shower to stay on the wall though!

Rest day tomorrow so that means laundry day although Penny has started already and then a long drive further West to Comporta on Tuesday. I might have a chance to upload a couple of videos tomorrow.

Pics: Everything covered up in the scorching sun, a long gravel drive, some of the standing stones and finally José and Maria’s summer house.

17th September:

Day off and because the car isn’t our Talbot so doesn’t need servicing which is a plus. Instead we headed into the nearest town, the medieval hill town and castle of Monsaraz. Still relatively unspoilt within the bailey wall, we had a lovely light lunch: Gazpacio for me and a Tortilla with Asparagus for P. After a bit of a wander around we went looking for an ATM and a shop for some essentials. None around here so we drove on to Reguengos de Monsaraz. Just outside town we found a large supermarket and replenished the essentials – Gin, tonic, lemon, nuts and water.

Remember I mentioned the shower head that wouldn’t stay on the wall? This morning the hot water ran out. This afternoon, one of our party asked about borrowing a hose so that he could wash his car but this was declined because “there is too much calcium in the water”. it doesn’t take much to put you off a place, does it?

Tonight we are dining under the stars again; quite appropriate as we are in the middle of an international “Dark Skies Reserve”.

We have a long day tomorrow so I’m not sure what time we get in or whether I will be able to post an update.

Today’s pics are: a little bit of detail of where our room is – hidden in the greenery, a detail of an ancient Olive tree in the grounds then another detail from the huge rocks that are scattered around everywhere, a Portugese big sky and just a sample of the centre of the medieval village.

18th September:

Very little to report today. We drove for ages and ended up in a sort of Portugese Portrush. Super fishy lunch on the beach. After ordering beer, wine and water, the witer brought a platter to the table. Three things on offer – Mackerel, half a dozen Sardines or a Gilt Head Bream for two. These were then taken out to the BBQ and cooked for you. We both tucked into Sardines, well, it is Portugal after all and they were cooked to absolute perfection. Ice cream and coffee to finish off and we’ve ended the day in a hotel called “Sublime”

Blimey, it is luxurious! We are all staying in cabins in a forest so we’re sharing again but by no means is it “roughing it”, quite the opoposite in fact.

Finish in Lisbon tomorrow then we head further south for a bit of a break on Friday.

19th September:

Well folks, today was the last official day on the road of Vintage Portugal 2018.

Last night’s “Hotel Sublime” in Comporta was actually a time-share complex and not really that sublime after all. Any idea how much our bar bill was for two G&T – €28 believe it or not. It also took about half an hour to pay for this when we checked out this morning because he couldn’t find the paperwork. The wee lad at the desk also made the mistake of asking me if we enjoyed our stay and his face went completely blank when I told him it would be an awful lot better if our room didn’t stink of blocked drains. Not even an apology.

We left quite early and motored along the Peninsula de Troia and caught the ferry to Setubal. A pleasant half hour crossing and we were snarled up in holiday traffic for quite a while on a very narrow road. Eventually we turned off and headed to Cabo Espichel for coffee and a look around a 15th Century church and hostel. As we arrived, one of our party advised us that the church was quite interesting but the cafe was a bit sh***y. Not far off the mark in my opinion. We bimbled on through the country to join the motorway and hence the bridge into Lisbon. Unfortunately there was also a road accident on the bridge so we delayed by about 45 minutes in 10 lanes of traffic all queuing to get through the toll booths. Some of our older cars suffered cooling and clutch problems, not un-naturally.

Finally we arrived at the Tivoli Hotel in the centre of the city and wandered about looking for lunch. Super prawn and shrimp kebab with a drop of wine for P and half a dozen wee lamb cutlets with a cold beer for me. We eventually checked into the hotel and our room is the last cupboard at the end of the sixth floor corridor. “Compact” isn’t a small enough word. P has just had a shower and it has flooded everywhere!

We are being bussed out for a goodbye party at some restaurant owned by a Michelin starred chef so fingers crossed it isn’t all hopeless.

Today’s pictures: two views from Cabo Espichel, a little shrine on the cliff edge – Mussenden it isn’t, an octopus up a tree – where else? and just one of the many storks we passed today.

20th September:

Last night the whole party gathered on the rooftop terrace or “Sky Bar” of the hotel. The place was packed and people were about six deep at the bar waiting to get served. There were some lassies waiting at tables so I waited until one had finished with a customer and asked her to bring two G&Ts to where we were standing. “Oh no” says she, “I cannot serve you”. I asked why not as we were really were residents and she told me that she cannot take an order unless we were sitting down. So, I asked her to find a table and two chairs and she turned and started to move away. I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she could pretend we were really sitting down so this time she deserted me; nothing for it, back to the bar. About 20 minutes later, one of the barmen (and I use the word loosely) asked me what I wanted. Now, I really am a nice sort of person so I pointed to the chap on my right and said he was ahead of me in the queue. He gave his order and then I was asked for mine. Very professional I thought but the barman went off and made about a dozen and a half other cocktails and eventually brought two G&Ts to me. “Please” I said, “This gentlemand was in front of me” so, off scurried the ‘barman’ and came back with his drink. I still couldn’t leave the bar because I hadn’t paid or signed to the room bill so I asked for that. Guess what, it was for two of his rum concotions and one of my gins. Eventually we got the bill sorted but had to drink the G&T in double quick time because it had taken so long and now our bus was waiting to take us to our last night dinner.

Dinner was in a delightful little restaurant in a narrow side street with electric trams rattling past every now and again. Super food, lots of speeches and special awards and that just about finished the night off. Once back at the hotel P & I made a very small, private presentation of an Esler Crawford book of arial photographs of Northern Ireland and a little ceramic trinket representing the Giant’s Causeway with a request for José and Maria to come, with one of their cars and visit Northern Ireland

This morning we had a lateish breakfast and Penny went upstairs to pack and I paid the bar bill. Only €23 this time. I asked what the room rate was for our cupboard but the girl wouldn’t tell me as it was a special group rate which is fair enough I suppose. So, I told her that it was probably one of the smallest hotel rooms we have ever stayed in and that we’ve had better for €40 than the probable €400 they were charging. She asked why so I told her that apart from the size, our luggage didn’t appear when it should, the shower flooded everywhere and even soaked our lobby carpet, the air-con sounded like a jet taking off and we had to use it because of the building work outside our window and finally, the roller blind wouldn’t stay up unless I put a knot in it’s string. She did ask if I wanted a conversation with the manager to which I said “No, you can tell him please”. Then she started a conversation in Portugese with achap beside her and I had to ask, quite forcibly, for my credit card receipt.

When we’d nearly fionished packing, we received a ‘phone call from Tim, one of the Tour de Force team who organised the whole thing. A few days ago he very kindly lent me a special USB cable so that I could back-up my photographs to an external hard disk because I’d lost mine somewhere. We had arranged for me to leave it in an envelope at reception for him to collect which I’d one last night. Guess what? Reception had no trace of it. He’d been there for about twenty minutes so I went down and the same girl denied I’d left it. I pointed to the chap at her right elbow and told her I’d given it to him and he’d logged our room number, Tim’s and said it would be fine. She then said it had probably been delivered to Tim’s room which he assured her it wasn’t. It eventually turned up about 40 minutes later!

Out of Lisbon at last we blasted South East on excellent, near empty motorways, filled up with fuel and coffee and stopped at the supermarket in Beja again for some bits ‘n pieces. The baguettes looked nice so we ended up with two delicious crab and prawn baguettes, two glasses of freshly squeezed ornage juice and two espresso coffees for less than €10. A bit more driving brought us to Spain and our last overnighter for a while in the delightful tiny hill village of Aracena where the famous Pata Negra pigs are raised. Looking forward to supper tonight! Only one hitch all day when an artic lorry got jammed upa side street that a cyclist would have thought twice about.


28th September:

Well, we’ve had a few days off doing absolutely nothing on the Costa del Sol and now we’re heading back north again following the greater part of our route down in 2003. This is known as the Ruta del Plata and has been known since very ancient times as the main link between Seville and the North. When we drove it the first time it consisted mainly of little country, single lane roads, mostly arrow straight Roman roads with very little traffic. Today they have been replaced with motorways but are still hardly what you might call congested.

Our first night after leaving Estepona brought us to Merida and our rooms in an old 18th century convent. We had supper out in the town and although we aren’t very far north yet, there are more and more Basque words creeping into the language. It is built around an ancient Roman Bastion so we had our first Tapas from a cafe built into the side of Trajan’s Triumphal Arch. The photo is of P inspecting the menu and another of the arch at night.I don’t know if you can see in the third picture but this is just one of hundreds of very fine mist sprays in the old town streets. It acts as a form of outdoor air conditioning and drops the temperatures by a couple of degrees.

The next two pics are of the Roman Temple of Diana with a Mosque built on top and the crowds thronging the Town Square where we finished off supper with a couple more Raciones.

The video is from our bedroom window and shows a tree in the square. It is positively quivering with thousands of little birds all chirruping together and hopping from branch to branch.

Today we drove on to Zamora and our hotel is based on an old Muslim citadel. On the way we stopped off for lunch in Salamanca and thought we’d got lost again in Venice. The square is a dead ringer for St Mark’s!

That’s it for now, Tomorrow we head for the north coast again.

29th September:

Today we made our final trek across the altiplano of central Spain. Believe it or not, the middle of the country lies above 2,000 feet for the greater part and the Romans made themselves very much at home here. Not the Russell Crowe Gladiator sort of stuff but simply large settlements for agriculture. Lots are still here and are still linked by very impressive roads. The first pic is of a very minor road, white on the map and it just went on for hour after hour at around 140 kph and hardly a landmark in sight. We like to stop in the villages for a break every now and again and this morning’s was a gem. Blink and you missed it but it still had a Plaza Mayor which, beieve it or not contained three banks (one open on Wednesdays only) a butcher, a baker, two cafe bars, a toy shop, a florist and a hardware shop. So, this morning’s coffe was perhaps the best yet at €1.30, delicious and it came with two slices of cake. and served with a smile by an old boy who was still clearing up after Friday night. Penny thought it deserved a photo.

Last night’s hotel had this boyo at the bottom of the stairs so I think we were safe!

For our last night on the trip we are staying in a wee place called Santillana del Mare where we stopped for breakfast after disembarking from the ferry 15 years ago. Our waitress back then described it as being a place full of liers because it is half way up a mountain so it can’t be very saintly either. It is an old medieval stone town that was all but deserted back then but is now rammed with tourist shops, bars, restaurants and four hotels that I counted not to mentioned the tourists. In 2003 we drove up the the front steps of the ancient church for a photograph but that just isn’t possible now, as you can see from the two photos.

I think this will be the last post for this trip but watch out for the next one in February next year – South of the Equator again!

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