Monday, 1 June 2009

Into Portugal!

Some weeks ago, my friend Maria from the yoga class discovered during a conversation about places to visit that we do not have a car here in Vigo. Now, this is not usually a problem for us, apart from getting to occasional travel blackspots such as Ribadavia! Maria, however, was quite horrified and decided that we needed taking in hand. So she began to plan an excursion, somewhere out beyond Cangas or maybe across the border into Portugal, before she had even asked her husband whether he really felt like driving two unknown English people around. Eventually though both husbands were consulted and a decision was taken: destination - Portugal, day - a Saturday in late May, lunch - somewhere good but not too expensive.

The Saturday in question dawned damp and the forecast was not good. Maria phone early to consult. We decided to go ahead anyway; Friday had also started wet and had then improved so maybe Saturday would do the same. And indeed, as we headed south it got better. Maria and Juan had some little matrimonial discussion about the route. He thought they had agreed one route, she another. He thought the ferry from A Guarda into Portugal would be a good idea but she did not.

It all settl
ed down at last into a nice drive, crossing the river by bridge to Vilanova de Cerveira and through Cominha, past neat houses with red-tiled roofs. The scenery was geographically similar, if not in fact identical, to southern Galicia but subtly different, divided into precise plots and vineyards. We stopped to buy cherries from a roadside stall, Maria arguing the price (too high for her!) with the stall holder while I marvelled at how much cheaper they were than in the UK!

We arrived at Ponte de Lima, our first destination, which signposts told us is the oldest town in Portugal. Coincidentally, they were having a mediaeval fair in the town and we walked over the Roman bridge, looking down at displays of archery and falconry and lots of people in fancy dress.

Then we moved on in search of lunch. settling for Vilaverde where we ate a very good parillada de peixes, a selection of grilled fish accompanied by more vegetables than is usual in Spain. A good meal in nice surroundings.

After a digestive stroll, we
headed back to the car, intending to move on to Valenca. Somewhere on the road out of Vilaverde, however, the signposts disappeared and we drove for some time through pleasant countryside, clearly not heading for Valenca but not quite sure where exactly we were heading. Juan did comment at one point that Maria was not the best co-pilota in the world.

Eventually we turned around and went back to the first roundabout outside Vilaverde to find that from that direction the signposts were as clear as they could possibly be. By now, tired of picturesque minor roads, Juan chose the motorway and we were soon in Valenca.

This old border town still has all its massive fortifications in a state of excellent preservation. We had coffee in the pousada - Portuguese parador - and discussed la crisis, the political legacy of Thatcher, the miners' strike of her era, las Malvinas and more. Then, after admiring the view across the river to Tui, we went walkabout in the town.

Within the walls the town has kept its narrow streets and old houses in good repair with some fine examples of Portuguese tile work.

For such a small town it has a surprising large number of chapels and churches, quite normal for Portugal according to our very informative friends.

If given her head, Maria would have persuaded us to go and look at many other places but it really was time to go back over the old iron bridge across the river, back into Spain and eventually to Vigo.

Gran Via was one lo
ng traffic jam; was everyone returning from a Saturday out sight-seeing? We stopped near the fishermen statue, gathered our belongings, thanked Maria and Juan several times over and said our goodbyes Spanish style with Juan leaping out of the car - never mind the queue of traffic - for the kisses on the cheeks and a shake of hand.

The crossings all had green men to speed us on our way back home to finish the day in good English style with .... a nice cup of tea!

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