……..it’ll make or break you. There is just no room, or rather NO TIME to roll around options on this trip. You have to trust your gut and go with it. And frankly, this is the hardest lesson I (Alyssa) have had to learn so far. So after seeing the sign for Portugal on our way into Salemenca, Spain– we knew what we had to do- Leave the big toursity-tastic city behind and head towards the mountains for Portugal, It was calling us–teasingly in the distance. 2 1\2 hours later we found ourselves on a very windy narrow road upward towards Covihla. A very very small town in the Serra Da Estrela region of Portugal. This is Portugals highest mainland mountain range (1993m) and we climbed to the very last meter on that mountain top. It was spectacular– one of the most beautiful drives of our lives. So this is when a hard lesson learned turns into a brilliant successful DECISION to follow your gut.
…But lets just back up a quick moment and talk about where we spent the night of the 23rd on top of that mountain range in Covihla. Have you every seen the shining? Well, the hostal for a start was empty. Crazy empty: It was purched at the top of a long driveway- a huge lodge with wood floors, fireplaces…plenty of room and VERY dark. Menacing really. Adorned with creepy pictures (please refer to photo) and some kind of black tar substance running down the wall. Um….. We started joking that it was a huge "scary movie" conspiracy that the whole town was in on it pickling and jarring the 2 "tourist specials." We laughed and laughed until the possibilities started to seem real. That night we walked down to a hotle restaurant a block down the road where we treated ourselves to a nice dinner as all we had the entire day was a baguette and a handful of chips. Little did we know the "set menu" included jellied pig snout and sea snails… watch out fear factor–here we come! We did it "grimacing" but thank goodness for the local wine vinho verde, it saved the meal. Finished the meal with what they kept referring to as "puuuuding" and enjoyed the fabulous view outside the window of the mountains. What a very well–beautifully bizarre day.
The morning of the 24th we woke up in our creepy crazy "scary moive style" hostal, patted ourselves down and we were relieved to find we hadnt been stolen during the night. We drove off towards Luso and the Bucaco Forest– a very dense forsest with century old trees, heather, wild flowers and leafy ferns everywhere. It was actually chosen as a restreat by the 16th century monks whish is very easy to see why because of how well, "zenified" it was. Other wordly really. They say the monks who founded the convent created quite a mysterys with their beautiful man made waterfuall down stone steps- each tier had a different water feature and greenery. It was absolutely surreal, both Ray and I felt their clay depictations of the crucification (see photo) of christ was unbelievably powerful. Their faces were so very realistic. We had ourselves a little picnic amongst the ferns and trekked about exploring the "sacred forest" and then drove into the town of Luso.
***Side note…. Can we just back up ever so much and quickly talk about the bloody TOLL SYSTEM here in Europe? Crikeys! And we though our bag o’change that we had to have on our way to Chicago was bad. Tolls have averaged from £4 upwards to £26!! And they are at least every 70 miles. Needless to say, we try to stay off the motorway as much as possible to save ourselves a little cash. THEY ARE ROBBING US!
Okay… back to beautiful Luso. We stayed that night in a campground just blocks from the center of a 2000 populated town. Perfect for us. Big enough to buy some bread and other supplies and small enough to feel lost in a culture so unlike your own. We sat at a "Salgaldos and Pesticos" bar (tapas Bar) and watched as the people of the town carried water jugs to the natural bubbling spring in the center of the town. (Which I was so dissapointed as the next morning I gleefully skipped down to the creek only to find it wasn’t running that day… BUGGER!) It was the hottest day so far… 30°C. 90 degrees…. Wow…. did 90 always feel this hot? Huh… I guess thats what happens when you get used to 60-70 degree weather… oh and throw in some turenchal down pours in their, too while you are at it! Oh how Portugal is helping our wallets. Especially in the small towns… we almost wet ourselves when we purchased our first "Segres" beers and it only cost us £.80! Thats just about a dollar… ahh… I think we are gonna like this country. Such a shame we can’t stay longer….
After a game of PIG on the basketball court (oh my, did I really every consider myself a basketball player? we were such a piece of work!) We had a beautiful pasta dinner prepared by Ray. (gawd bless his cooking talent… I would be eating PB&J everyday for every meal otherwise!)
Woke up the next morning to the most FOUL stench in the world (& no, it wasn’t us!) We think it may have been a local cheese factory mixed with the roads. Never the less… we had a giggle after we read in the brochure for this specific campsight " where one can breathe pure fresh air." Wow… not so much…
So on our way we went…. clocking over 3000 miles since we started and made our way to Nazare where we got our first peak of the Portugal coat and sea. We soaked up some sun on the beach and onward we went further down to Peniche. It juts out into the coast ever just so that you can drive around the peninsula and see the entire coastline. And because that just wasn’t ENOUGH thrill for the day we dorve even further down the coast to a possible campsite in Guincho. After getting lost a few BILLION time trying to find the darn turnoff for the road (Gertrude our GPS friend can’t find everything… but we sure could have suded her direction after a very long day) we finally found the campsite. Probably one of the most unique so far. Bendy trees that looped around eachother creating a little inlet for each tent all on very compacked sand. It was a beautiful night so we diecided to shower off our frustrations and pull up a chair with some others and listen to… well… Karoke. Really REALLY bad karoke. But entertaining nevertheless. Why is it always the people that run the Karoke always seem to be so annoyingling spunky and so ultra passionate about their job? Well this guy was kind of like a Ricky Martin on "happy pills." What a riot….
****On a sidenote…. the downside to our crazy travel European itinerary is that we really aren’t able to ground ourselves long enough to really meet people and staying at a campgrounds makes this even harder. This will hopefully all change when we aren’t on our own personal "wyatt amazing race" through the European circuit. I guess its either SEE more or MEET more.
July 26th we woke up in good spirits ready to set off towards Sagres… a small town of 2500 down on the Mediterranean sea side of Portugal. Where we are hoping we can take our chance at some waves…maybea surf camp and some canoeing and to finally use our recently purchased game of "Beach Ball." Or rather "something to keep Ray Ray busy so Alyssa can get her beach time."
**** We thought we might quickly share with you our gas cost per day.. just to make those rising gas prices at the pumps at home look better. Just about everyday we have to gas up our 698 KM (435 miles or so) gas tank. Which costs us on average £55 or so. 60-70 buckarooooos per day. How about them apples? ZOINKS!
As we drive further South to the Algrave region of Portugal the Temperature rises… just hit 32°…but its a dry heat and in a convertible it feels like being blown by a hairdryer. But we are all smiles nonetheless–bring it on—clear blue skies all around us. Scratch that… its now 34° and we just passed a toll… best one yet… £17.70…. almost 25 bucks. Rip off tastic if you ask me. We settled into the town of Segres like it was no ones business. Easiest transition yet… it was small and charming–just how we like it. Pop. of 2500 and perched in the very southwest corner of Portugal. You simply can’t get any further in Europe then Segres. Which means we have no successfully driven the ENTIRE stretch of Europe from Scotland all the way down … ZOINKS… hard to comprehend. After setting up camp we set off for the beach… the first time touching the mediterranean sea. Now… let me see if I can even begin to explain what slowly appeared as we walked down the steps towards the ocean….
Each tier allowing us to take in more… This little inlet was surrounded by a beautiful cream rock face that allowed a more private feel–like it was placed there just for you. The sand as white as snow and so very soft as you made your way through it– getting closer to the brilliant clear blue sea. So blue… it was almost purple. (This ones for you Chas.) The waves broke very close to the beach which gave it the most peaceful sound… it was hard to believe it was all real and here you stood— overwhelmed trying to take it all in.
How lucky we were.
Granted, the ocean was CRAZY cold… but that didn’t stop us, or RAY by riding the waves in one after the other. That was it. We were staying for 2 nights. Not another word was said and we slapped on the 30 sunblock (yup, thats right… I am being SUPER good) and layed back to soak it all in.
Now, Thursday night was quite hysterical as our tent just so happened to be placed in the middle of a wind tunnel… and making dinner proved to be quite a challenge. But Ray, as always, overcame the Tornado winds and made a vegetable and sausage cous cous…um yes… I am one spoiled camper. We had to eat in the tent to avoid dirt from flying in our food and laughed the night away. OF COURSE it can’t be this windy ALL the time at this campsite? Right?!! Oh… but it could… I was seriously afraid it was going to carry us away during the night. But alas… we woke up and we were all still in one piece…. SURPRISINGLY! Spend Firday morning in town gathering some items for our picnic lunch and gave in and bought a cooler for our cheese and meat.
***Wow…. this is going to be one heck of a "tent sale" we are going to have right before we have to give up this car! Chairs….coolers….plastic containers…. beach mats… beachball games (oh wait, I have been told this is most def. being kept with us)…. I can see it now– "Everything must go Sale as we are finally going to be REAL LIVE backpakers!"
Headed back down to "our beach" and spent the day playing in the ocean and on our way to becoming professional "beach ball" players. That night we treated ourselves to dinner in town and just stumbled upon an amazing little restaurant… Ray was overjoyed as he could immediately see how passionate the chef was about his food. He served it… prepared it… and gave the most impressive presentation. I even had my first baby octopus… it was delicious. We were the only ones in the joint… so when we saw some others passing by looking at the menu I (because its just the American way) stuck my face out the door and gave them a thumbs up and told them to come in…After thanking the chef and shaking his hand in the kitchen for the amazing meal (and froffy, milk, cinnomen and coffee liquor drinks) we walked out the door all smiles… what a wonderful dining experience. Didn’t want to end the night just yet and went to a local bar to be around some people and take it all in.
After wind tunnel crazieness night number 2…. we set off Saturday the 28th back to Spain towards Tarifa. 35° now as we drive our 4 hour journey back to Spain… so long Portugal— "Obrigado" for all your sunshine and beauty! oops… I take that back… 37° and climbing… woo wee!
Tarifa is a laidback kite surfing wind surfing town on Europes most southerly point… (something about us and our "points.") You can actually even see Africa from the beach! The beach is about 10km long and backed by pine forests, green hills and windmills.
**** On a side note… it is quite amazing Europes energy saving techniques… almost all bathrooms wherever you go have sensors to conserve electricty… along with stores that don’t even turn there lights on during the day if its bright enough. Solar panals everywhere along with 100às of windmills throughout the coast. Every night in England at Ray’s mums even the cable "stand by" light is turned off not to consume unneeded energy. And don’t even get me started how much energy Europeans must consume on drying EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF LAUNDRY OUTSIDE!
Back to Tarifa…. we arrived there at about 5ish… usual time on a travelling day (er, aren’t they all? wulla..) We either have a campground or hostal in mind, or go directly to the tourist bureau and go from there. Usually pretty painless! Never once a problem yet with no vacancy… until today, that is. Ru ROWWWW! HUGE kite suring event going on… and already went to 3 campgrounds and they were completely full! Finally… the VERY last campground outside of town had a few spaces left. Oh does it feel good to know you don’t have to sleep in your car that night!! Oh zoinks… was the campsite ever full… If you ever have been to a Countryfest or the Apple river on the 4th of July weekend… it was very much the same vibe. It was buzzing… just how we like it! Made sime dinner… even did some laundry… and watched the people come and go… and even secretly fed one of the "farm" cats as the campground literally buckled up next to a farm with cows, horses… oh and the ROOSTERS and their bloody morning cockadoooodledooos!
Sunday morning we awoke to a completely different vibe… you could almost see some tumble weeds roll across the campsite… talk about everyone cleaning out! What, was it something we said?
Well, we headed towards the beach although we hit our first road block almost immediately… the beach was so windy the sand literally PELTED you. And we aren’t talking "nice skin exfoliation" here… we are talking full on SAND BLAST. We tried to make the most of it and took a walk to see if there was any less "eyelid flapping like a hippys bell bottom" wind areas… but no go. We gave up and went back to the campsite pool. Guess we know now why its the windy capital of Spain? Zoinks! After a lazy afternoon we headed into town to explore and have dinner…. got a hold of my mama on the phone as it was her birthday… (hope it was wonderful one! I love you!) and ended the night with a beautiful sunset… and back to our little orance tent we went.
Monday morning Ray woke with a planto see if there was a ferry that went to Morocco and up towards Sete… a small town in France closer to Nice (where we were meeting Rays friend Juri and his family)… but no one really understood what we were trying to do– nor did the internet help. I guess you could say that we were in quite a pickle as Nice is about a 18 hour drive from Tarifa and our goal was to be there by the 31st. Well, today was the 30th, and it ain’t lookin’ so pretty. We were on our way to the Eastern side of Spain to Alicante a port that may allow us to do just that about 6 hours away… ORRRRR we may just have to pull a "Stacy Sue" and drive our GUTS out…
But whatever we do… and whatever we decide– our car rides always end up being such a goof fest. Lock the Wyatts up in a car for 6 hours and we could make quite an interesting reality show!
Today is Tuesday the 31st…. we have offically successfully completed our first month of our 6 month trek across the world… and we haven’t lost one ounce of our "itchy feet syndrome"… in fact.. we can’t scratch them hard enough. It makes me smile SO hard to just imagine what is to come…
And back to driving…..CRIKEYS! Did mention how BIG Spain is? Wowweee maui. And it seems even bigger as we curve around winding mountain sides… but its so very beautiful here. We have driven through orange groves, countless farms of olive trees, wine vineyards, gorgeous terraces amongst the mountains…. It helps the "car punishment" we must go through today as we make our way closer to nice. (nope, couldn’t find a ferry…) The ocean JUST to our right keep teases us! "I can’t play today…" I keep telling it… but I swear its calling my NAME! I know you sun godesses out there feel my pain! (Jen Marshall…Loretta Halverson….)
Last night we ended up staying in a town called Alcante… we got there a bit later then we would normally would– but that doesn’t matter in Spain! People don’t go out to dinner until 9– and dinner service usually lasts through to midnight… this way we get to experience so much more. We roamed around a bit trying to fund some hostals and the fiurst one was already booked (and this is a Monday night mind you) so we said a little "ru row" and moved on to the next. We finally found one and took a chance on a hole in the wall hostal called Major Hotel… Dodgy as ever.. but it had a TV, Bathroom AND shower IN the room…. For £36 in the center of town– you can’t beat it. Oh, and the view it to die for… suicide, that is.
Cleaned up and headed out to explore– it was a Greenwhich village without the sewage or rubbage. What a fabulous city it was…. we immediately agreed that is had a good feel about it. So many cafes and restaurants it was hard to pick… had ourselvessome dinner around 10sih and took a final stroll around the town and called it a night.
I will wrap up Tuesday super quick… DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE until our butts or car gives out… WHATEVER COMES FIRST. We have driven approximately 4623 miles through Europe… whats 632 more to Nice?
We did it! Its Wednesday the 1st and we have only an hour away from Nice… Drove about 8-9 hours yesterday and paid.. get this… £75 in tolls! ITS EXTORTION! Just a day later then our intinerary was set for… but it was worth the extra day in a few areas in Spain and Portugal. C’est la vie! Now off to meet Juri……
What a wonderful 2 days we were able to spend with Juri and his family. Ray had worked with Juri 13 years ago at a place called The Bull hotel (where he also met Sarah AND Phil)– they have kept in touch and the last time Ray had seen Juri was at their wedding 7 years ago.
And it doesn’t seem like a moment has passed….
Wow… They welcomed us into their home with OPEN and I mean OPEN arms and treated us just like family. And their beautiful children Mylan and Ianas (2 year old twins!) and his amazing wife, Marjourie…. They showed us the sites of Nice– took us to Ville Franche…. Cooked us wonderful meals…. Made Ray’s birthday so very special with presents– dinner– and DON PERIGNON, to boot! We are so grateful for them for all that they did… Thank you Juri and Marjourie again, for EVERYTHING! What a fabulous time spent… It was so very hard to leave. (I am actually pretty suprised we were able to).
… So with a few tears in my eyes, we set off for Italy… Ended up spending the night at a city we didn’t even know the name of… (now we know we were close to La Spezia) and spent the night at one of my most favorite campsites so far. The Italian woman that helped us was trying to convey to me that it had been 18 years since the last American passed through… not to mention how hysterical it was as we saw they were feeding the stray cats PASTA of all things! I guess even in Italy the cats eat pasta, too! Oh how the Italians are passionate… vibrant… and the hand jestures! We must say, we have really fallen for this country and its people.
…Phew… well, if you are still following this… (and more power to you if you are…) we are in Pisa– 800 meters from the Leaning Tower. Just something you have to see. And we are so glad that we did. Took our "tourist-tasic" pictures of us pretending to hold er’ up… and stayed that night at a VERY close campsite… perfect. Now off to Florence we go…. The sun is shining and its going to be another hot one. Today is the 5th… and only 3 more days with the car and then we fly to Athens, Greece for the remaining 7 days in Europe.
Hope all is fablous with everyon… Thinking about you all.
*** AND PLEASE DISREGARD ALL SPELLING MISTAKES as this computer would only check them in Italian.
TAKE CARE!! Keep in touch… keep the comments coming– we love them.
Thank you for everyone who wrote emails/comments on Ray’s birthday… He loved them!
Until next time…
Alyssserr’ and Ray Ray