Tuesday 25th April 2017, Caminha, Portugal
It was no more than a 15km drive from our very pleasant campsite on the edge of the Atlantic, along the coast road to A Guarda on the Spanish side of the Rio Minho. We must have visited it on our earlier travels down into Portugal but neither of us could remember so doing.

It was a pleasant enough little place where we restocked our fridge, enjoyed a coffee in a pasteleria and discovered an Aladdin's cave of a shop selling shoe laces, duct tape and thousands of other, equally diverse things ranging from a child's flamenco apron to a Spiderman mug! It was fascinating! We needed the laces and duct tape for minor repairs to Modestine and my shoes. Never leave home without duct tape, you never know when it will come in handy. In our case for repairing one of Modestine's seats.

Down on the banks of the wide Minho we bought the second cheapest international ferry ticket of our travels. The cheapest was between Poland and Germany and was free. This crossing cost us 6.50 euros for the three of us. No "lovely walls" or border patrols here! There was just Modestine and a couple of cars on the ferry and in no time we were driving through the familiar little streets of Caminha, calm and friendly as ever. As luck would have it we arrived here on Portugal's national day, their Day of Liberty, the 43rd anniversary of the toppling of the right wing dictator Salazar. In peaceful Portuguese manner the local people were celebrating with beers, coffees, cakes and empanadas on Caminha's central square.

Ferry between Spain and Portugal crossing the river Minho

Modestine crossing between Spain and Portugal over the river Minho

Approaching Caminha in Portugal over the river Minho

In 1968 Salazar suffered brain damage when his deck chair collapsed. It took a further six years to finally topple the right wing regime in a bloodless coup, known as the Carnation Revolution, on 25th April 1974.

Poster, Carnation revolution, Caminha

The little town was as friendly and pleasant as we remembered and our spirits soared as we re-explored the streets of granite buildings, many faced with Portuguese tiles in various stages of disrepair. In a side street we met an English couple with their Romahome and told them to look out for Modestine down by the river. We walked down to the railway station to check on train times to neighbouring towns to give both Modestine and me a break from driving. The station was worth the journey in its own right with wonderful scenes of Caminha's old buildings and local historical events on hand-painted tiles on the walls of the station building. These were obviously unique items and a warning notice made potential thieves aware of the consequences of stealing any of the unique and valuable tiles.

Tiled facades to the houses, Caminha

View towards the main square, Caminha

Old tile depicting a local scene, Caminha railway station

Old tile depicting a local scene, Caminha railway station

Actual photo depicted in the above tile, Caminha

Sign warning that the tiles have been entered onto a database of valuable items. Intended to deter thieves, Caminha

Jill enjoys the railway waiting room, Caminha

A friendly young woman in the pasteleria helped us reawaken our dormant Portuguese. We arrived unable to remember a single word. After forty minutes consuming coffee, empanadas, savoury rolls and, for Ian, a large and very sticky chocolate covered and custard filled cake, we left with a good thirty words that had come back to us! The sound of the language is completely incomprehensible to our ears but in its written form it becomes no more difficult than Galician, Asturian, Catalan or any of the other Spanish dialects to struggle with! So we can work out what we need, directions, instructions, labels and such but find asking for things more complicated. Once again our international pointy fingers are doing overtime. More people here though seem to understand English than was the case in Spain.

We decided we'd best check that the campsite was still in existence and sort ourselves out for the evening. It was very strange returning once again down the familiar, bumpy track through the pine trees down to the sandy beach where the sea and the estuary meet, a kilometre outside the town. The only thing that seems different is the price. Last time we got 25% discount as pensioners and the price was half what it is now. Now there are no discounts and we had to pay 24 euros for the night. Further down the coast there is a site where we think it will cost us nearer 11 euros so sadly this looks like being our only night on this site.

The reception office informed us that we were here back in February 2006 - when they had no hot water, a power cut, snow and we were their only customers! We were also here in 2009. They now have hot water and loo paper. Even the remote corners of Portugal are moving with the times!

Settled beneath the pine trees amidst the dunes we left Modestine for an evening stroll on the sands, watching skeins of birds returning back from overwintering further south. It really felt as if we'd arrived at where we wanted to be and we have no desire to rush further south. We are near the railway line down to Porto so may see whether we can manage a ride down there before we turn around and make our way slowly back up towards Gascony. So far Northern Portugal has been spared from over development. How long before even here is forced to change?

Back street,near the church, Caminha

Lovely granite houses, Caminha

Thursday 27th April 2017
Yesterday we drove back to Caminha and left Modestine parked near the railway station. The weekly market was in full swing. It is enormous and concentrates mainly on clothing and shoes. It is obvious that these markets form a vital part of the way of life for people in little towns up and down the country. They are also very popular with the Spanish people across the estuary, who find clothing considerably cheaper in Portugal than they do in Spain. For us though, clothes markets are rather boring. Socks are socks wherever you buy them. I am more interested in things that are different from home, such as Portuguese ceramics and cooking pots. There was also much in the way of table linen and fabrics with bright Portuguese designs.

Weekly market, Caminha

We found time to pop into one of the pastelerias for a coffee with the shoppers at the market before hurrying back to the station for the two-hourly train down the line to Valenca. The station is unmanned but the guard on the train sold us return tickets. This stretch of the line up from Porto is rural and single track. We trundled through the countryside where vegetable patches appeared to be laid out using the strip system. They were well tended and already beginning to produce peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. Small vineyards were sending out tendrils and leaves. Soon the grapes will be starting to form.

It took only thirty minutes down the line to reach Valenca. It was all rather a disappointment. We'd muddled it up with somewhere else we'd really liked on a previous travel down here and it was nowhere near as nice as we'd expected. A weary walk up from the railway station eventually brought us to the citadel, an 18th century fortification based on those designed by Vauban, the late 17th century French military engineer. This is now the only historical part of the town, the rest being modern and uninspiring. New buildings have been erected amidst areas of open ground. The planning does not seem to have taken off and it looks dusty beneath the hot sun with patches of weeds and parked cars. The town seems to have no heart.

The citadel though is quite nice. There are however five kilometres of walls and Ian seemed set on walking them all! Inside the walls there were trenches, dykes, watch towers and battlements. Nowadays the buildings have become shops selling household linens to the Spanish who cross the bridge from Spain to buy their socks, undies, pillows, tea-towels, table cloths and duvets here. It makes for a boring time when every shop is crammed with exactly the same goods as every other shop. We were also pestered by waiters trying to persuade us to dine in their restaurants. We'd optimistically bought return tickets for the 5.30 train back. By lunch time we were feeling bored!

Fort within which lies the old town of Valenca

Old town, Valenca

Semana Santa figure in its shrine, old town of Valenca

Then we discovered the Firemen's museum! Nobody seemed to have visited it all day and the curator was eating her lunch when we arrived. She explained that the museum was on 3 floors and turned us loose inside while she went back to her tuna empanada outside in the sunshine. The Portuguese are very proud of their firemen who are all volunteers. The museum started calmly enough with uniforms, badges, medals and dinky toy models of different fire engines. Then we came upon a beautiful bright red Bedford fire engine with leather seats.

Old fire engine, Bombeiros Museo, Valenca

There were stretchers, early engines carrying just a few gallons of water. Upstairs was a collection of old fire extinguishers, mainly rusted and corroded up.

Fire extinguishers, Bombeiros Museo, Valenca

Then we discovered the helmets!! For Ian it was love at first sight! It's been bad enough waiting while he photographs Portuguese manhole covers on street corners. I count myself fortunate. Somewhere there has been a Portuguese housewife who has had to make space in her home for firemen's helmets from around the world! Fortunately for her the Bombeiros museum curator was happy to accept them into the museum. There were helmets from all over Europe, from the USA, from Peru, Brazil and Argentina. There were Canadian ones, Australian ones, there was even one from the Nottingham Fire Brigade and another from Essex! Even Singapore and China were represented! Almost all looked completely impractical for protection. In fact the only one that looked remotely useful was from Japan. Just think, however unlikely it may seem, somebody, somewhere is prepared to collect pretty well anything!

Firemen's helmets, Bombeiros Museo, Valenca

French fireman's helmet, Bombieros Museo, Valenca

Singapore fireman's helmet, Bombieros Museo, Valenca

After that we felt more cheerful and trotted off down into the modern town in search of lunch. The town really was boring! We couldn't find an interesting place anywhere to buy lunch. Eventually we were obliged to compromise with a baguette and cider for Ian and orange juice for me. The baguettes were dry, toasted stale bread with Portuguese cheese and a slice of processed chicken meat inside. The drinks were okay though and the price reasonable.

No way could we drag out the afternoon until our return train at 5.30pm. So we went down to the station and hung around with a coffee until the 3pm train arrived. Fortunately the inspector summed us up pretty quickly as half-wits and simply clipped our tickets without throwing us off the train.

Modestine was still waiting patiently for us and we were soon driving down beside the sea fringed by white sandy beaches to Vila Praia de Ancora where we thought there was a cheaper campsite than in Caminha. It is only seven kilometres further on and is indeed 11 euros rather than 24. It is lovely! There are good showers with adjustable hot water and it is set on the edge of a pretty village with a granite church. There are old houses in the village, with pretty gardens, climbing roses and vines for shelter from the heat. There are allotment gardens and you can walk along the cobbled roads without fear of being run over. It is peaceful and calm with the scent of the many eucalyptus trees offering shade around the campsite. It is still only a ten minute drive before we can be parked back in Caminha if we wish.

Today we decided to drive down to Viana do Castelo, a few kilometres further south along the coast road. This was a contrast to yesterday, having a wealth of lovely buildings and a beautiful old quarter filled with granite buildings, some highly decorated in Baroque style, others, elegant and attractive in the Portuguese Manueline style. We parked down beside the port and walked back into town, stopping perpetually to admire and explore. We found the cathedral with its life-sized statues of Christ and the Virgin dressed in silk robes. Ian found the excesses of the adoration of Catholic saints hard to comprehend. Certainly Spain and Portugal emphasise the cruelty and suffering in the lives of the saints. In one church we also found a statue of a very benign St. John Paul (2nd) hugging a small child. He is now definitely worshipped and recognised as a saint here.

Casa dos Abreu Tavora, Manueline style, Viana do Castelo

Another building we entered thinking it was a civic building, turned out to be a very exuberant church, A Misericorda, with extravagant baroque side altars and shrines while the walls were covered in pictures built up from blue and white tiles depicting various acts of mercy.

Casa de los Arcos, Viana do Castelo

Old Town Hall, Viana do Castelo

Church of the Misericorda, Viana do Castelo

Church of the Misericorda, Viana do Castelo

Church of the Misericorda, Viana do Castelo

Church of the Misericorda, Viana do Castelo

Church of the Misericorda, Viana do Castelo

Church of the Misericorda, Viana do Castelo

The streets are all cobbled and difficult to walk on. Tonight my damaged foot is hurting and sore. I was wearing ordinary, flat shoes. Very many of the smart young women of Viano were wearing high heels and thick, platform-soled shoes. Fashion is so impractical!

The town has several interesting museums though the only one we visited was about archaeology in the region. It was excellent, well laid out with a very good translation into English of all the labels. There is also a costume museum and a fine arts museum. On a sunny day in an attractive and interesting town there was just too much to see outside.

Granite casa de los Nichos housing the museum of archaeology, Viana do Castelo

Down beside the river we saw the bridge carrying both cars and trains across. It was designed by Gustav Eiffel, who designed a similar one at Valenca which we saw yesterday. He must have had a contract to do the bridges in this part of Portugal. Both bridges carried road traffic on the upper level while the trains passed across on the lower level.

Iron bridge on two levels designed by Gustav Eiffel, Viana do Castelo

Then Ian told me about the fort at the other end of the town that he wanted to see! Like the one yesterday it was based on the Vauban model. Resigned I accompanied him along the waterfront, passing Modestine in the parking lot, and way beyond to the fort which seemed to have no way in. Having circumnavigated it completely we finally found an archway into the fort. Much of it is now taken over by the national training centre for international tourism and hospitality. I climbed up on to the ramparts overlooking the water and promptly fell asleep on a bench while Ian went off to walk around the ramparts. Fortunately there are rarely many people around the sort of places Ian likes to explore. If there were the sight of a female British pensioner, using a rucksack as a pillow, asleep on a bench inside a military fort might give rise to concern.

Looking out across the harbour from the fort, Viana do Castelo

Fort, Viana do Castelo

The sleep helped however and once we'd collected Modestine and driven back here I wandered off for a hot shower while Ian opened the wine. It has been a very pleasant day.

Friday 28th April 2017, Ancora, Portugal
Today has been restful. First we drove down to the sandy beach and the little town of Vila Praia de Ancora. In the centre workmen and residents were very busy decorating the square with petunias. The front of the church was smothered in them. In the centre of the square a temporary turfed garden had been created, populated by large figures made from recycled materials. Again petunias decorated everything. Small enclosures in the "garden" contained guinea pigs, rabbits and even a small pig. Children were in there playing with them. All along the main street the shops had joined in the celebrations with bright window displays. We think it is all for a weekend of excitement starting tomorrow. Just behind the main street, along beside the sea, runs the railway line down to Porto. Crossing the line by clambering over the track we found ourselves on the beach where we walked amongst the dunes and strolled along to where the little river Ancora flowed clean and sparkling into the sea. Returning to the square we joined the workers stopping for coffee in one of the pastelerias. We have been rather spoilt since we have been here. In both Spain and Portugal coffee and cakes are so cheap we have taken to stopping more frequently than is really necessary. The coffee is delicious but the cakes are generally dry and rather boring. This morning Ian chose a "Jesuit" as his treat. He admitted it was dry and tasteless but he continues to live in hope.

Temporary garden for the town fete, Vila Praia de Ancora

Church facade decorated with petunias, Vila Praia de Ancora

Church interior, Vila Praia de Ancora

Central square, Vila Praia de Ancora

Later we drove back to park in Caminha, leaving Modestine parked near the police station. Walking in to the centre we passed an antique business with a display of Chinese works of art. Curious we went inside. The owner was a delightful man who quickly realised we'd not popped in to buy his 8th century Tang dynasty ceramic horse, nor indeed his more recent blue and white Ming dynasty dishes made for the European market during the 17th century. We told him about our crackle-glazed hand painted charger, a leaving present to me from work colleagues at Croydon Library. We also told him about Croydon's Riesco collection of Chinese figures and ceramics. He spoke excellent English and seemed inclined to chat. He took us into his back office and showed us some of his other items. We said we'd never discovered him on earlier visits to Caminha and he explained that he'd been there for thirty years but normally visits were by appointment only. As he happened to be there and we were obviously interested he was more than happy to chat with us. What a lovely man! When we left he gave us his card and explained he had a restuarant in the town where we should go for a traditional Portuguese lunch. When we discovered it we decided that charming as it obviously was, it really was rather an extravagance when the Caminha rowing club was offering a 5 euro menu to raise funds for the club. So we popped in there instead and hoped he'd never know.

Oriental ceramics, Caminha

Inside the clubhouse there was a hubbub of cheery conversation as people gathered for bacalhau, otherwise known as dried salted cod cooked with tomatoes and herbs, served with thinly sliced potatoes. It came with wine, beer or water and was preceded by vegetable soup. It was certainly an experience and the first time either of us had actually tasted the salt cod we have seen hanging up in grocers' shops in the little towns of Spain and Portugal. We think it is mainly imported from Iceland. Truth to tell we found it still rather salt though it had obviously been soaked and washed before cooking. We won't rush to taste it again, though it was perfectly edible. Afterwards we crossed to our favourite pasteleria for a coffee to take the salty taste away. Ian accompanied his with a rather dry and flakey cake which looked and tasted just as boring as his Jesuit earlier in the day.

Lunch at the rowing club, Caminha -
the piece of cod that passeth all understanding

During our time in Caminha today we also climbed the granite tower guarding the entrance into the old historic town with its straight, narrow streets lined with small residential houses. We also looked around an archaeological exhibition on the museum and called in at the public library. In both the museum and the library nothing stirred. Both were deserted and the staff looked astonished that anyone would wish to look around. They were friendly and helpful though. In the library we found a large section of works of English fiction.

The street below the church tower looking towards the estuary, Caminha

Looking down to the main square from the church tower, Caminha

Main square with cafes, seen from the church tower, Caminha

After lunch we climbed up above the town to the mirador offering a scenic view out over the river towards the estuary with the little town of A Guarda and the wooded hills of Spain a couple of kilometres away across the river. Then, taking care to creep quickly past the convent before any of the nuns could drag us inside as happened on our last visit, we returned to the town through pretty gardens of fruit trees, flowers and vineyards spread out on the hillside below the old convent building.

Looking across the river estuary towards Spain on the far bank. Caminha

Caminha, the Minho estuary and A Guarda seen from the Mirador above Caminha

Laverie of the old convent on the hillside above the town. Caminha

Vineyards in the grounds of the convent above the town. Caminha

Convent on the hillside above the town. Caminha

In town we bought wine and fruit and very regretfully left Caminha behind, almost certainly for the last time. Collecting Modestine we drove back to our very nice rural campsite for a snooze, a shower and some wine. It has been a lovely stay here. Tomorrow we will make our way back to Spain.