Heading West (Matt’s week 13)

“Heading West”

Matt’s weeks 13

The week started out with us leaving the wildlife park and heading about a hundred or so kilometers west at a town called Gijon. On the way we had made a small detour to a village  Matt and Jo had told us about called Santilana del Mar. Although whilst there the weather was drizzly we had a pleasant walk and saw many of the old buildings and rather odd selection of museums  for which the town is well known.  That night in Gijon was a slightly sleepless affair as although the aire was not too busy and overlooked a small beach it was also next to the port which we could hear worked through the night and the railway line which although more sporadically also ran through the night. So we decided one night there was enough for us and without really adventuring into the town we were gone from Gijon.


I had seen an aire about another 100K’s or so along the coast that we would head for in a town called Ribadeo which when we arrived was reminiscent of the style of aire we had stayed in Bermeo, just a rather drab small corner of a car park overlooked by about a thousand apartments and this time with us having a bit more time until it would be dark we decided to try and find somewhere else. We continued west heading to a small town called Foz which had an aire that had received slightly better reviews on Camper Contact (the app we were using to find aires), so we were a little more hopeful.  Whilst driving there we went through a very odd place called San Cosme, which at some point had clearly been earmarked as the next new tourist destination, unfortunately it was as if half way through building this great new destination someone had discovered plutonium seeping from the ground and everyone had caught the next bus out of there.  There were skeletal concrete buildings everywhere, roads that were unfinished and not a person to be seen.  We hoped that when we got to Foz which was only a short distance away things wouldn’t be so bad.

As we came into Foz it was clear although maybe not the most affluent or prettiest place we were going to see on our travels it did have people, which was a bit of a relief.  When we got to the GPS coordinates it wasn’t totally clear where we should be parking and being no one else there we pitched up on a long grass promenade just along from the harbour and the fishermans store sheds. That evening we took a walk around the town which turned out to be rather nice. It was clearly a tourist town so in late November not a lot was open and there were no crowds of people but it had a pleasing feel and felt safe to walk around.

The next morning it turned out we were lucky to have parked where we had as about 25meters away on the large car park next to us they were setting up the market for the day.  We were planning  to get away early that morning as we were heading to Santiago del Compostela which was about 180Km away across some quite steep climbs, so after a quick flit around the market we were off. The journey across the North West corner of Spain was a bit scary in the morning as as we climbed higher the fog became thicker and thicker until I think at one point we were only doing abot 20mph, but as soon as we reached the highest point the fog dispersed and we were given stunning views stretching out for miles and miles in front of us.

There was an aire in the centre of Santiago but it didn’t look at all appealing on Google earth so being after 3pm by the time we would arrive we decided that although it was a bit further we would go to an aire near the coast and return to spend the whole of the next day in the city.

The first aire we found near the coast had the potential to be quite nice it just wasn’t.  It was in a nice little cove but there was rubbish strewn all over the place and after a brief walk along what looked like quite a pleasant beach the smell of sewage and then Ellie swallowing one of the hundreds of flies had us back in Heidi and driving away to the next aire in double quick time.

The next aire was in Boiro it again overlooked a beach but had quite a large road between us and it which wasn’t a great sign but it was now dark and we were both pretty hungry, so there we would stay.  At about 8.30pm we had a knock on the door from a local policeman telling us that we needed to pay him 3 Euros to stay the night. We had seen the sign when we arrived but on closer inspection it had said we would have to go to another car park somewhere else in the town to buy the ticket and with it being late and with the map that was meant to show you where to buy the ticket having long since faded away we decided to take our chances. The policeman was nice and friendly but when he left neither of us were overly sure where the money we had given him would actually go!

The next morning we emptied and filled water and drove the 50Km back from where we came from the day before to San Sebastian. We knew we could stay in the aire for the day for just 3.5 Euros but the lady working at the reception had obviously been told that she must tell everyone who enters every permutation  of charges up to and including I was quite sure if we wanted to make the car park our permanent home!  After explaining we would be gone by 8pm that evening she gave us a map and explained  that the town was only a fifteen minute walk down the hill but that we would need to get the bus back as the hill was too steep to walk back up. Ellie and I both found this a little odd as we had just driven from the centre and although without question there was a hill we didn’t feel it was insurmountable. As we were let in and the barrier opened Ellie quite uncharacteristically stated she thought this maybe in part due to the ladies size!

Santiago was very pleasant, we headed to the old part of town where the monumentally large Cathedral and all its many ancillary buildings were. We popped in for a quick look and lost track of time.  For the previous week or so Els had been having a niggling back pain and now, in a larger town had decided to book an osteopath appointment. This was for 12.30 and was about 2km outside of the centre of town. At 12.16 whilst still in the Cathedral we noticed the time and having persuaded the osteopath only yesterday to forgo his lunch to see her we started a mad 20 minute rush to try and get to him. Thankfully  except for the last 200 meters it was all down hill and with a mixture of odd rushed walking and casual jogging we arrived only 8 minutes late. As we entered The pristine black and white office Els who was very red in the face, a bit sweaty and bent over with a stitch was relieved to find he was running a bit behind schedule and would be with us in a while, which gave her time to regain her breath a little.  After the treatment, which thankfully seemed to go well we took a much more leisurely walk back into town and found a nice if not slightly unusual restaurant to have lunch in called Exotic, which seemed to be a fusion between Moroccan, Caribbean and Portuguese.   Els went for the polpo (octopus) whilst I was somewhat less adventurous with the house burger!

After lunch and still recovering from our earlier rushing we took things nice and easy and headed back to the Cathedral to finish off looking around. We also went to the Cathedral museum which was quite interesting although I did get a bit annoyed to start with as having gone in to the museum entrance we had been told by a man in an overly efficient tone that we could not buy tickets from there and that we would need to get them from the tourist centre. So we walked to the tourist centre purchased the tickets and took them back to the man who we had seen ten minutes earlier. It all seemed a little pointless If you needed to have someone check your ticket why could they not complete the simple process of selling you the ticket? This became even more apparent when we got into the museum and found that there were no translations on any of the exhibits so we would need an audio guide, which, as I am sure you can guess we had to go back down the road to the tourist centre to collect! Anyway once we were in and equipped with our guide the museum was quite interesting and also allowed us to go up to the outer walls and get some great views of the city.  Having realised time was getting on and that we still had a bit of a drive to our overnight stay we walked back up to Heidi (we made the hill!)and headed off.

Although up until the last few days the weather had been lovely but with more unsettled and colder weather due we were aiming to cross into Portugal and head south towards Porto in search of warmer climes. That nights planned stop was going to be a place called Arcade and would be our last stop in Spain before crossing the border. When we arrived it had long since been dark so we settled in for the night. What we could see from the window under the moonlight looked promising,  a nice harbour location in a quiet corner of a small car park. There was another motorhome there an older version of our Hymer (owned, it turned out by an always half naked elderly German) but other than that,  a small generator noise from one of the nearby buildings and the odd dog bark it was perfectly tranquil.

In the morning we woke to beautiful sunshine and could see the bay and all the fishing boats much more clearly. It was a lovely spot on a tidal estuary which when we had arrived the night before the sea had only been 10 meters from us was now almost completely gone with only two small river widths of water across the 2.5k stretch of mud flats. There were hundreds of birds of which many were Cormorants which are jet black about the size of a Canadian goose and stand for minutes at a time with their wings fully extended creating a silhouettes that looks just like a bat. I had much fun taking photos of these and on a couple of the walks we had around the coast we were lucky enough to see Kingfishers which I think is the first time I have ever seen them in real life. We liked it so much there we decided to stay another day. There was a local supermarket that had all the basics you could need and we even popped to a small cafe for coffee croissants and a free plate of cakes which came to just 3 euros.


On the Friday we left the town and having changed our Duolingo language learning App to Portuguese from Spanish we quickly crossed the border and headed down the coast with a plan to stay at our first Portuguese aire. We had put the GPS details into our sat nav and as we approached the town it did its usual thing of sending us up impossibly narrow, steep roads. So after turning around at the top of the hill overlooking the town we checked with my phone and although the coordinates were written exactly the same on both devices  my phone had us at the bottom of the hill in a car park near the centre next to the aquarium which all seemed a lot more feasible than where we currently were. The town we were in was called Villa Nova and we found the four designated bays quite easily (when we were in the car park). I decided to go out and recce the town whilst Els relaxed in Heidi.

The town was pretty quiet but had a sense that it could get quite busy. The centre square had at least a dozen or so little cafes and bars around it with at least a hundred or so tables outside them, none of which were occupied when I went by. The town had a few shops of varying quality and a surprising number of hairdressers and barbers. In the centre of the town is the old fort which still exists forming the centrepiece next to the town square. I walked through the gates and up into it and it was a little bit eerie. Inside the inner  walls was a chapel, some very small apartments built into the walls, a closed down cafe bar and what was left of what appeared to be a large late 21st century building that had fairly recently been used as an art gallery still with odd bits of modern art adorning the walls. On the way back to Heidi I saw what seemed to be a nice bar so popped back to see if Els fancied going for a drink, which she did.

The bar was called Curt Isso and was run by two young chaps one of which was the chef. We ordered drinks and then decided to get some Tapas as well.  A few minutes later the Chef  Antonio brought out or salmon with a mustard and dill vinaigrette which was super tasty, a bowl of warm salty peppers some of which were mild some of which were very hot (they all looked identical) and a plate of Potato Bravas. We chatted to Antonio for quite a while. He was Portuguese but had good English although he spoke it with a distinct German accent having worked there for several years. He gave us a good list of places we should try and visit in Portugal as well as some useful pronunciation tips, I was still stuck on bread (which is pao) and having listened intently about a dozen times I’m still not entirely sure how it sounds.


The next morning looking out of our window where the night before there had been just four or five motorhomes there was now about 40, which seemed a bit strange. That morning I was going to show Els the highlights of my findings from the day before but the town, even early on a Saturday had a bit more of a buzz about it. It turned out the market was in town and it was huge. Over night and early that morning about 300 stalls of every type of everything had arrived along with scores and scores of people. The little cafes that the day before I was convinced would never fill half a dozen tables were all setting out plates and cutlery to every table.

The market was good. There was a lot of clothes and stalls with more shoes in one place than I have ever seen in my life and between them some good household goods interesting bric a brac and towards one end of the market a series of food stalls which are always my personal favourites. A local delicacy seemed to be a slated and cured belly of pork that was hung up so people could just cut off how much they wanted.  There was also tables and tables of the Bacalau which is salted and dried cod which we had found out from Antonio the night before how to do to cook. There was also a couple of stalls with cages filled to the brim with live chickens, which although I have no problem with meat being killed to eat, doing it in the middle of the market always seems a little undignified to me.

Having spent the morning wandering around and purchasing a little present for ourselves (a new stove top Italian coffee pot) we decided to break from the crowds and head off. We were now far behind on our blog as both of our laptops were dead and the transformer was draining the batteries too quickly to warrant trying to charge them. It was therefore decided we needed to find a campsite, preferably with internet as three weeks of blogs and photos would take forever to upload on our wireless system.

There was only 1 campsite open in the direction we were heading in a place called Vila Cha, it didnt look too bad and was only 14 Euros a night. On the description of the place it warned us not to use the sat nav to try and get there as it would take us down many almost impossible roads. So we didnt use the sat nav and as it turned out still ended up going down the impossibly narrow roads having at one point to make a five point turn in a small village square and at another to remove a bike that was leant up against a wall as it was too narrow for us to go past.  We did in the end find it and it was nice to be able to hook up and get the power on and not worry about having too many light on.

We decided to take a walk the 200m or so down to the beach where there was a huge sign giving themselves a pat on the back for raising 750,000 euros to build the next 3Km section of board walk to the next village of which almost 400 euros came from the European union. We firstly walked along this new section which is for the use of pedestrians and cyclists and is about 1.5 meters wide and about a foot above where the footpath had obviously been  before. Every so often it had a ramp down to the sea or back to the road.  It seemed to me to be a total waste of money as every time there was a dip or a bend the path just stopped and reverted back to the perfectly good path underneath. My thought that this was a bit of a waste of money was even more true when out walking the next day we walked in the opposite direction along the older section of boardwalk which was already rotten away with bits of board either broken or missing making it more dangerous than the perfectly good path that was underneath it. (Rant over)!

Although there was no supermarket nearby to the campsite there was an onsite shop which had the basics, so we decided that as we had power we would stay a couple of days and get the blogs up to date and uploaded. There was a tube style train that ran from about 3Km away all the way into central Porto so we decided that instead of heading to an aire in Porto we would base ourselves there get all our devices charged up and clothes washed, as the next week we were planning to go a bit more off the beaten track and head to the prehistoric rock art site of Foz Coa which is out in the East of Portugal along the river Douro on whose banks many of the best Portuguese wines are made. So maybe then, “A Bit More Wine Tasting”.



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