Friday, 20 July 2012

Portugal and Spain

Long time, no blog. We’ve been in northern Portugal, which was too nice to spend much of our time there writing about, and northern Spain, which definitely wasn’t because our time was mostly spent leaving. Readers who also follow me on Twitter will have seen the photo, shown left, of the official* Worst Campsite In Spain. It may be of interest that we actually drove round an even worse one (though this is a bit like saying that the Somme was worse than Verdun). Probably it goes without saying that we chose not to stay there.
*not actually official at all.

Portugal, in contrast, remains a favourite place to visit. The people have a tinge of amity and engagement that reminds me a bit of Australia: helpful, but not too much so. Staying with Sao near Ericiera was as much a treat as always – the best breakfast fruit bowl in the country. A larger one was pressed on us as we left: “I got up early to pick them, I know you like the fruit.” 

From there we rolled up through the Minho, green, green Portugal. This was a new landscape to the Glamorous Companion, though I’d visited it years ago with my friend Bonga. In retrospect I’m a bit embarrassed that we didn’t explore more, even just in surfing terms: we surfed pretty much the same break every day, in an area I now know is rich in waves. Mostly I surfed standup, but once in a while I managed to find an un-lifeguarded beach and get out on the mat. Image below, shot by the GC from the comfort of her beach towel – which is why it’s rather distant.

One change in Portugal: the people have, in general, got tremendously fat. It was like Chubby Night at Brighton’s Wild Fruit night club, all day, every day. I think they must have spent the EU cash on cakes. The country’s similarly bloated with empty property: beautiful modernist apartments and houses, all unoccupied, all for sale. Someone somewhere made a bundle on this, but it’s not – of course – ordinary Portuguese, who are suffering badly.

Spain saw us make first acquaintance with a gloomy band of drizzle that followed us across the entire country like a rheumy-eyed, smelly old dog. This will clearly elicit little sympathy from British readers busy building Arks in their back gardens. It’s a tough place to travel with an actual dog, Spain: they’re not allowed inside anywhere, so the pavement table is the dog-owner’s domain. OK if it’s sunny, but it wasn’t. The campsites – stop me if I’ve mentioned this – are also dire. The best night we spent in Spain proper was in a beach car park; also the last night before we reached the safety of the Basque Country.

The highlight of non-Basque Spain was probably Galicia. It’s a wild, wet, rugged country, where the grain stores have to be off the ground to keep them safe from vermin and damp. Two or three jaw-dropping surf breaks, out in the far west, made me think this would be a good place for a full-on surfing exploration.

The Basque lands always feel like a good place to be, and after a not-particularly wonderful time in the rest of Spain, it was very welcome to reach them. The coast road between Zumaia and Zarautz is an Amalfi? What Amalfi? treat, and the campsite in Zaratutz is a real gem. A few days there to recharge in the sunshine, and now we’re in the Pyrenees, waiting for Wiggins with about… actually, I have no idea how many other people. We’re camped in an enterprising farmer’s field near the top of the Col de Peyresourde, and there must be at least 1000 other camper vans within sight already, more arriving all the time. I can see about 10% of the col from where I’m sitting. Go figure.

I rode up the col this morning, feeling slightly out of place among the lycra and carbon fibre, then sat in the sun at lunchtime, alternately writing and watching the amateur riders going up and down the route the pros will travel at double-quick time on Wednesday. All the lovely bikes on display gave me that terrible itchy-credit-card feeling.

Oh no, not again. 

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