The date is Monday the 4th of March, and Iggy the Hymer motorhome is rolling steadily south and west through the green and muggy Portuguese heartland. The melodious, rousing harmonies of Mumford & Sons first album trickle out the open window at my side. Drifting off, with my wide eyed gaze, to play among the ribbons of silvered bark on the eucalyptus trees, and the artfully twisted limbs of ancient vines and olives.
Home. This is home for me. This bend of the road, this rise and fall of hill and mountain. Stone hump of ancient bridge and arching span of modern concrete and steel. Trails that wind us in dizzying spirals down and down, past vast gaping drops, to splash in cold running, mountain valley streams at the bottom.
The final turn from hours, days, weeks on the road that finally reveals that perfect sliver of burning blue. A sea. An ocean. Gleaming with a still distant, far away promise, that calls we humans, spellbound, to it’s mother shores. Home.
Home is the sea, and home is the road. For me anyway. Home is each unknown crevice and creek of this glorious earth we wander. I can’t remember a time when corners did not pull me. Asking, demanding, that I come, follow, peek round the sides.
It doesn’t matter what I find there. Round those corners, those bends in the road. All that matters is that I follow.
And so, here we are. Me, Jay, DM and Marley. Day thirteen in Portugal and not a word blogged about this green and hilly land of cheap beer and cheaper coffee. Smiling faces, ancient castles, lunatic drivers and ridiculously active and tenacious mosquitoes.
Why not? Is it so bad or boring there is nothing to write? Is it hard to find words of interest for this little rectangle of planet on the very south west tip of Europe?
In a word… no. No it’s really not bad and it’s really not boring and I really do have words a plenty waiting to trip from my clumsy fingers and tongue to describe our time here. I’ve just been too busy relaxing and enjoying myself to write any!
Enough with this laziness! The tale awaits and we must spin it from where we left it. Back, back and back we go to Iggy trundling sturdily away from our last stop in Ciudad Rodrigo…
Change of Direction – Almeida
We crossed the border from Spain into Portugal on Wednesday, 20th February. Chasing the westward fleeing sun that ran faster than Iggy could follow. On and on the sunset flew – across the Atlantic, and the Americas, to bring the light of day to the far off shores of the Pacific.
Iggy tried his best to keep up, but we mere mortals needed rest and pulled on his reins at the Portuguese border town of Vilar Formoso. There was nothing here we wanted to see, but we had a few of hours of driving ahead to our first “proper” stop in Guarda. A night here would break the drive a bit and take the pressure off tomorrow while I finished up our Spanish stories.
Somewhere in between walking Marley round the sleeping, cobbled old town, watching a movie, editing some photos, a glass of red and Jay’s far too distractingly fun company, I was still running behind on the blog next morning…
“Maybe I can write some while we drive.” I thought to myself, as I juggled map apps, music apps and stopover apps while navigating us with my normal, effortless expertise through the unfathomable twists and turns, roundabouts and weird junctions of our surroundings.
Well right up until I failed dismally to do any such thing that is…
“Yep. This one. Wait!! Ah! Too late! Nope sorry. Wasn’t that one. Sat Nav thought we were further over.”
Ah the familiar things in life that we are so fond of! Jay panicking that we’re lost and asking if he should do a U turn on the motorway. Me yelling back to keep going, it’s okay, Sat Nav will redirect us in a moment, just let it catch up!
Enormous train like HGVs appear like magic to buzz us out of lane and add that, always entertaining, element of “We’re all going to be squashed like ants at a picnic!” For ten frantic seconds reality drops it’s everyday pretence of existence and we freefall through every infinite spinning possibility in the universe.
Then snap! Sat Nav calmly suggests we “Turn right.” The lorry vanishes into the distance. Marley yawns lazily on the floor between us and I say:
“Did that sign just say 15 kilometres to Almeida?”
We were heading for a town called Guarda that was going to take us a few hours on the switchback mountain roads, but I hadn’t expected the route to take us past Almeida. I’d seen it briefly on park4night last night and thought it looked interesting.
I’d thought it would be too far in the wrong direction though when I’d glanced at google maps. But here it was. Right on our route and just a few minutes down the road!
If I could only find the Aire on park4night, get the coordinates written down and then pop them into our Co-Pilot navigation app before we’d driven past, then this was a meant to be stopover!
Everything went smoothly and within a couple of minutes we were redirected to the free Aire at the “Fortified village of Almeida”.
“Only a village so we might not want to stop for long.” I said to Jay. “We can always have a wander then grab some lunch and head on our way.
As always Jay was happy with wherever he was going, and even happier to be stopping after only a fifteen minute drive. The Aire was spacious and empty. The sun was bright in the sky, and the tops of the Citadel walls of Almeida’s old town teased us from the grassy ramparts right in front of Iggy’s resting place.
With no more ado we gathered our expedition gear ( camera, dog biscuits, water bowl, sun screen for the ginger one..) and headed across the road for the fortified village of Almeida!
It didn’t take long until we were laughing at ourselves for thinking we might not stop in Almeida for a full day! Struggling to make ourselves want to leave after just one was going to be more like it! What a fabulous start to our time in Portugal!
Almeida is one of those places where I constantly feel like I’ve stepped back 50 years in time. Back to a world where every little thing of interest wasn’t encased in glass, behind a screen, behind a ticket desk, behind a price list that elicits would be visitors to comments like,
“I only want to have a look! I didn’t want to buy the place!
The fortress at Almeida is simply there. A fantastically intact, star shaped Citadel, complete with inner and outer gates, redoubts, cannons, barracks, tunnels and local cows grazing between the inner and outer walls.
Everything is accessible and free apart from some small military, museum places that cost barely a couple of Euros to visit. The inner town has a pretty plaza, cheap friendly cafes and a couple of wandering street dogs wagging tails for crumbs at our lunch stop.
I fell in love with the old village within minutes of being there, and loved it more with every step. The views across the valleys from the walls of the fortress. The chiming of the cow bells. The almond blossom. The quiet, clear, clean taste of the air.
It made me smile for the children of the town and the future that there are still places like this. Places where our history can be touched, felt, and tasted without a price tag barrier for those with less money in their wallets.
Places where children can run on the same cobbles their ancestors did. Stand on the same walls. Feel the thousands of eyes before them that gazed out across the valleys and hills. Listening to the timeless clang of the cow bells calling them home, to supper and to sleep.