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Back to Spain and on to Portugal

March 11th, 2024

Hola España!

As we crossed over the border “line” from Morocco, a police officer wanted to see our passports and then see inside Minou just in case someone climbed aboard in the twenty metres since we’d left Morocco!

EU Immigration came first, and we were stamped back into the Schengen; then customs wanted a peek inside and we were done by 8:24am (a total 39 minutes to cross both borders).

It’s a gorgeous cloud free day and we continued on to the ferry port.  We’ve lost an hour of time re-entering Europe and we were at the ferry terminal in line by 9:38.  The ferry started boarding at 10:10 and we left on time at 10:30.  It takes about 90 minutes to cross the Strait of Gibraltar.

It was a calm sun sailing and the ferry was maybe only a third full.

Here’s the Rock of Gibraltar again:

Upon arriving in Algeciras, we found a Vodafone shop to get our Spanish SIM’s topped back up.  There was NO parking in that area, so Doug dropped off Fran and just drove around till she was done.  This was a super frustrating experience.  The women took our phone numbers to check that the SIM cards were still valid; they were.  Now she said you just need to recharge your balance and come back here.  WTH?  No, you cannot recharge your Vodafone account at a Vodafone shop!!! She sent her to the nearby Carrefour where she found out there system was down after waiting in line for five minutes.  She returned to the Vodafone shop to be told where another Carrefour around the corner was.  She went over there and the line ups were ginormous!  After waiting nearly ten minutes she got to the till and purchased the 10 euro recharge up.  She returned to the shop only to be told that the accounts only had 7euros in them so not possible to purchase the plan we wanted.  Apparently we must have used up some ‘free excess’ which you can only do to the max of 3eu.  So back to the busy Carrefour only to wait in an even longer lineup to buy another 5 euro’s worth of recharge.  Then back to the Vodafone store where they made the calls to “reinstate” our phone numbers (after 60 days they go dormant; after 180 they are dead) and purchase the plans.  For 10eu you get 25GB for 28 days that doubles to 50GB under the promotion we had originally purchased (this also included 6GB to use in the EU outside Spain).  So this whole process took nearly an hour with Doug driving around in circles hoping to pick Fran up on one of his drives past.  So unnecessary – we still don’t understand why you can buy a recharge at the store.  This took nearly an hour to get sorted.

To put the “cherry” on top, while Doug was driving around waiting for Fran he managed to scrape the bumper on the passenger side quite deeply.

We got back on the road and made our way to the city of Cadiz on the coast crossing this bridge:

Cadiz is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Western Europe.  It was founded by the Phoenicians as a trading post around 700BC and was called Gadir.  Julius Caesar held is first office in this city and Christopher Columbus set sail from Cadiz on his second journey to the Americas.  In the 18th century the port became the main harbour for Spain enjoying a virtual monopoly of trade with the Americans until 1778. 

It is home of the Spanish Navy and the port boomed in the 16th-century as a base for exploration and trade. It has more than 100 watchtowers, including the iconic Torre Tavira, which was traditionally used for spotting ships. On the waterfront is the domed, 18th-century Cádiz Cathedral, featuring baroque and neoclassical elements.

We found a parking lot by the train station that allowed motorhomes and got parked paying for three hours.   We walked into the old city to take a gander and see a few sites.

The Torre Tavira – one of the watchtowers mentioned above.  However, here it seems you must booked tickets ahead to visit and there were no tours left today so we only viewed it from the outside.

The Arco de los Blancos:

The Cathedral de la Santa Cruz de Cadiz

Outside the cathedral was a square with a few restaurants so we stopped for late light lunch and a beer.  We enjoyed a “cruji coque”.  It’s kinda like a pizza with a  thinnish crust and toppings with no sauce.

notice the label? That’s Berlin!

It was pretty good and not super filling so we had room for gelato from the place next door afterwards. wink, wink.

We returned to Minou via the Plaza de la Constitucion:

And then made our way 12 km / 7 mi inland to a free aire that was huge.  The town of Puerto Real offers this large mostly grassy area with small lanes to drive around and there is dumping of grey and black and there’s supposed to be water but we understand that it’s not always available and today it wasn’t.

We got parked in our own little area – we expect like well over 100 rv’s could park here and not be jammed together.

The tunnel counting has begun again and today we passed through five.

We had a very quiet night and awoke to more sunny skies and after exercise, showers and tea, hit the road again.  As we are back in the Schengen and we want to finish Europe this spring in order to sell Minou, we won’t be doing too much dawdling in places.

Our first stop today was the small “white” town of Arcos de la Frontera – there are apparently ten of these “Pueblos Blancos” and this is deemed the best.   This city is also famed for its Holy Week Processions.

We found parking on the outskirts and then had to walk up about 150 steps to reach the city.  Two of the main sites to see were closed so we just wandered the main drag.  Unfortunately, it was downhill to the further point and then a slog back up but the town was very quaint and yes, very white.

Here’s a monument to their Holy Week processions:

The furthest stop was the Puerta Matrera which was underwhelming:

We saw the three big churches:

San Augustin:

San Paulo:

And Santa Maria de la Asuncion:

And took a photo of the doorway at Palacio Conde del Aguila:

As we were walking back to the stairs to get back to the parking lot, we passed a bakery selling “bollos de arcos” which we’d seen people eating in the café, so we bought a bag.

We’ll try them out later.

We got back on the highway and headed north to the city of Seville.  Like all big cities, finding a place to spend the  night here is not convenient.  There is nothing IN the city itself – even parking lots that others had stayed at had either height or length restrictions, bad reviews (like thefts) or something else.  There were two motorhome service areas south of town, neither of which got rave reviews but as options were slim we picked the better rated one on park4night.

It’s a huge parking lot by the river where car storage is the main business and we saw lots of big trucks with new cars on the back in the area.  They have an area to park motorhomes and it was pretty full so it’s really just a glorified parking lot that offers power (for an extra fee) and dumping, water and Wi-Fi for 15 euro a night.  We arrived at the gate behind two other vehicles and the gate was opening despite the sign saying “open 24 hours”.  A fellow told us it opens at 3 and it was 2:30 – the van in front pulled away and then we saw the gate open as a car was coming out so we scooted in just before it closed and got parked.  The main reason we wanted a pay spot tonight was Wi-Fi.  Our European GPS for some reason is only showing the UK and Ireland after Fran did an update the other day so we need to update it again, hoping to get the rest of Europe on it without killing more of our data.

We made a booking to see the Cathedral of Seville tomorrow at 12:45.  We’ll catch an Uber into the city and back from the overnight spot.

Fran tried updating our GPS again after parking; she got connected and it began ever so slowly but it eventually got done!  Yeah!  We now have all of western Europe and the UK.

The temperature today is quite nice – mid 20’s C / up 70’s F and there’s not a cloud in the sky – so wonderful after 3 and half days of rain in Morocco!

Tuesday we awoke to partly cloudy skies and were not in a rush to leave.  Around 10:00 we ate an early lunch, filled and dumped and left the RV parking area.  Since you are charged in 24hr increments, we wanted to leave the area in case we couldn’t get back by 2:30, so we parked on the street closer to the main road and called an Uber; after the first two backed out the third guy showed up but even he took his sweet time.

We got dropped off at the Plaza de España which was a nice surprise.  It’s right beside the Parque Maria Luisa.

The Plaza de España is an architectural complex located in the Maria Luisa Park in the city of Seville.  It was built between 1914 and 1929 and is the largest construction of the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. 

It is a semicircular square with a large central building that houses a headquarters of the Army, galleries with structures that house monumental stairs and, at the ends, two buildings with towers that house state agencies.  ​ It has an estuary crossed by four bridges and a central fountain. It is decorated with 48 benches dedicated to the Spanish provinces, 52 medallions of illustrious people in the history of Spain 5​ and heraldic shields. 

In one of the galleries is the entrance to the Military Historical Museum of Seville.  In July 2023 it was declared an asset of cultural interest.

We then we strolled through the next park to the Christopher Columbus monument.

(If you recall  your history, it was King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain who financed his trip.)

We then walked further into the main part of the city to see a couple more plazas and the outside of the Alcazar – they did let us peek in the main entrance to see the orange trees without getting into the giant line to wait for tickets.

And then made it to the Cathedral early.  First we walked around the outside as it’s huge and you cannot take in the entire thing in one spot let alone get a photo that way.

The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, better known as Seville Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral.  It was registered in 1987 by UNESCO along with its adjoining Alcazar palace complex, and the General Archive of the Indies. It is the third largest church in the world as well as the largest Gothic church.  The Gothic section alone has a length of 126 m / 413’, a width of 76 m / 249’, and its maximum height in the center of the transept is 42 m / 138’. The total height of the Giralda tower from the ground to the weather vane is 104.5 m / 342’ 10.

Seville Cathedral was the site of the baptism of Infante Juan of Aragon in 1478, only son of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella.Ferdi Its royal chapel holds the remains of many royals, cardinals as well as Christopher Columbus and his son, Deigo. 

And then made it to the Cathedral early.  We first took a stroll around it and then tried to get in a half hour early but no dice.  Then at 12:25 they did let us in.

It had many doors:

We first walked up the sloping walkway up to the top of the Torre Giralda.  Instead of a staircase it’s just around and around to get to the top (much easier than stairs for Fran) and we took in the views and saw the many bells.

The Giralda is the bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville. Its height is 105 m / 343’. The Giralda is the former minaret of the mosque that stood on the site under Muslim rule, and was built to resemble the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco. It was converted into a bell tower for the cathedral after the Reconquista, although the topmost section dates from the Renaissance. Construction began in 1184 and was completed on 10 March 1198, with the placement of four gilt bronze balls in the top section of the tower. After a strong earthquake in 1365, the spheres were missing. The statue on its top, called “El Giraldillo”, was installed in 1568 to represent the triumph of the Christian faith.

walking up all the floors to the top for views:

Then we spent about 20 minutes walking through the church (without a guide).

Inside the church there is a small sign:

The English on the bottom reads:

The First Round the World

The Nao Victoria

On August 10th, 1519 the departure of the an expedition organized and led by Hernando de Magallanes and formed by five ships and a crew of 234 men was announced in this city.  On September 8, 1522, the Nao Victoria finally returned, with 18 survivors, after having complete the first circumnavigation of the world under the commany of Juan Sebastian Elcano.  In an act of thanks, they came here to this spot to pray before an image of Santa Maria de la Antigua  (there was no railing at that time).

After leaving the church, we went to the line of cabs parked outside and grabbed one to take us back (cost about the same as the Uber).  As it was still early, we decided to head to the border with Portugal.  Fran found a place with cheap diesel about 30km / 20 mi before the border and after filling up, off we went.

For lots more pics of our little trip into Seville, click here.

As we are not done with Spain, fun facts will come after our final visit in a few weeks when we explore the part of Spain that is north of Portugal.

In this part of Spain we drove a total of 454 km / 282 mi.

PORTUGAL (Country no. 88 for us)

March 13th, 2024

Portugal, officially the Portuguese Republic is a country located on the Iberian Peninsula, in Southwestern Europe, and whose territory also includes the Macaronesia archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira. It features the westernmost point in continental Europe, its mainland west and south border with the North Atlantic Ocean and in the north and east, the Portugal-Spain border constitutes the longest uninterrupted border-line in the European Union.

One of the oldest countries in Europe, its territory has been continuously settled and fought over since prehistoric times. The territory was inhabited by the Celtic and Iberian peoples, such as the Lusitanians, the Gallaecians, the Celtici, Turduli, and the Conii. These peoples had some commercial and cultural contact with Phoenicians, ancient Greeks and Carthaginians. It was later ruled by the Romans, followed by the invasions of Germanic peoples together with the Alans, and later the Moors, who were eventually expelled during the Reconquista. Founded first as a county within the Kingdom of León in 868, the country officially gained independence as the Kingdom of Portugal with the Treaty of Zamora in 1143.

During the 15th and 16th centuries Portugal led the “Age of Discovery” and established one of the longest-lived maritime and commercial empires, becoming one of the main economic and political powers of the time.  By the early 19th century, events such as the earthquake in Lisbon in 1755, the country’s occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, and the resulting independence of Brazil in 1822 led to a marked decay of Portugal’s prior opulence. This was followed by the civil war between liberal constitutionalists and conservative absolutists over royal succession from 1828 to 1834. The 1910 revolution deposed Portugal’s monarchy, and established the democratic but unstable Portuguese First Republic, later superseded by the Estado Novo (New State) authoritarian regime.  Democracy was restored after the Carnation Revolution in 1974, ending the Portuguese Colonial War and eventually losing its remaining colonial possessions.

Portugal spearheaded European exploration of the world and the Age of Discovery under the sponsorship of Prince Henry the Navigator. Portugal explored the Atlantic, encountering the Azores, Madeira, and Cape Verde, which led to the first colonization movements. The Portuguese explored the Indian Ocean, established trade routes in most of southern Asia, and sent the first direct European maritime trade and diplomatic missions to China and Japan . In 1415, Portugal acquired its first colonies by conquering Ceuta in North Africa. Throughout the 15th century, Portuguese explorers sailed the coast of Africa, establishing trading posts for commodities, ranging from gold to salvery. Portugal discovered the Portuguese India Armadas via the Cape of Good Hope.

The Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 was intended to resolve a dispute created following the return of Christopher Columbus and divided the newly located lands outside Europe between Portugal and Spain along a line west of the Cape Verde islands, off the west coast of Africa. In 1498 Vasco da Gama became the first European to reach India by sea, bringing economic prosperity to Portugal and helping to start the Portuguese Renaissance. In 1500, the Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real reached what is now Canada and founded the town of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, one of many Portuguese colonies of the Americas. 

In 1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral landed on Colonial Brazil and claimed it for Portugal. Ten years later, Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa in India, Muscat, and Ormuz in the Persian Strait, and Malacca, now in Malaysia. Thus, the Portuguese empire held dominion over commerce in the Indian Ocean and South Atlantic. Portuguese sailors set out to reach Eastern Asia by sailing eastward from Europe, landing in Taiwan, Japan, Timor, Flores and the Moluccas. Although it was believed the Dutch were the first Europeans to arrive in Australia, there is evidence the Portuguese may have discovered it in 1521. 

Between 1519 and 1522 Ferdinand Magellan organized a Spanish expedition to the East Indies which resulted in the first circumnavigation of the globe. The Treaty of Zaragoza, signed in 1529 between Portugal and Spain, divided the Pacific Ocean between Spain and Portugal.

Portugal has had a profound cultural, architectural and linguistic influence, with a legacy of around 250 million Portuguese speakers around the world. A member of the UN, EU, the Schengen, and the Council of Europe, Portugal was one of the founding members of NATO, the Eurozone, and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries.

Portugal was officially neutral during World War II. At the start of World War II in 1939, the Portuguese Government announced on 1 September that the 550-year-old Anglo-Portuguese Alliance remained intact, but since the British did not seek Portuguese assistance, Portugal was free to remain neutral in the war and would do so but continued supplying goods and tungsten – an essential material for the arms industry – to Nazi Germany until mid-1944.

The two main colors on the flag are green and red, decided by the flag committee. They believed red symbolized the blood loss of those fighting for Portugal to become a republic. Green symbolizes hope for the future. The Portuguese flag thus represents both the past and a glimmer of hope for the future.

 Diesel price:   €1.50 and up a litre; about $6.19 a gallon

Currency: The Euro (currently $1.09 USD and $1.47 Canadian)

EU plate Letter:   P

Beer: Super Bock

We crossed the border around 3 and the clocks went back an hour so we regained the hour we lost coming from Morocco.

We drove to the first exit off the highway and stopped in Villa Real de Santo Antonio on the Rio Guadiana.  We were going to go to an RV lot but after reading the “check in” we opted not to pay the fee when we saw you could park in the supermarkets lot in this town – no services but free! We pulled into the Intermarché and there were already half a dozen RV’s there.  We found a spot on the side and settled in.

Thursday morning after exercising, showers, tea and washing dishes, we made our way southwest through Southern Portugal to the small city of Faro to see the Capela de Ossos  – a chapel made of bones inside the Church of Carmo.  While we’d seen one back in the Czech Republic, this sounded different.

We got parked and walked over.  It’s a small chapel inside a larger church.  Here’s the main church:

and inside:

Compared to the one we’d see last year, this was pretty small and not nearly as impressive.

Before returning to Minou we decided to get SIM cards for Portugal.  Our Spanish Vodafone SIM cards will work here to a max of 6GB and we don’t think it’s enough data for us.  MEO sold us 15 day plans for 20EU with unlimited data so a bit pricey but unlimited: we’ll take that!  We can save our 6GB of European roaming on Vodafone Spain till we get back to France and get new SIM cards there.

Yesterday, we’d investigated a set of cliffs online on this southern coast with cool caves and the only way to see them is by boat so Doug booked us a boat trip on Friday out of Portimão.  So after Faro we made our way there.  Fran had found a Lidl parking lot that has five RV parking spots and an outdoor self serve laundromat in the parking lot so we drove there, got laundry done and then went for a walk down to the beach (praia in Portuguese).  Our walk took us to the cliff tops  and here are the views we got:

We then went on a quest to find a restaurant with a view along the cliffs and at the fifth one we hit success and stopped for drinks and what was supposed to be a light meal.

We took an Uber back to Minou and spent a not so quiet night at the Lidl.

Today was a one tunnel day.

Friday morning we took it easy and headed over to the parking lot by the docks around ten after eating an early lunch.  The boat trip was at eleven for which we checked in at 10:45.  The group of 18 was divided in two and half of us (including us) went on a zodiac with comfy seats and the other half took a speedboat but we travelled together.

on the malecon at the docks:

The trip was about two hours and it was rather foggy out so the long distance views were not great.  We travelled up the coast to the Great Benigal cave (the main attraction) stopping many times at other caves and lovely beaches.  It was quite cool on the water with the fog and the fast boat but it was not unbearable.

People jump off these cliffs (but not today):

The piece de resistance of this boat tour was the Gruta de Benagil:

The views were awesome and really this is the best way to see all the cliffs along the coast and it was so cool how many caves and secret beaches there were.  At times we actually drove right into a cave!

We were back at one as scheduled and then made our way a little further south along the coast to Lagos to see the Ponta de Piedades and hoped to see one of the best beaches in Portugal but there was no parking for motorhomes so we missed that and the path from the point was under renovation so closed.  The weather was clearing a bit but we could still see some fog out on the ocean. Upon leaving, we nicked the back bumper and it fell off!  It’s not the first time, and Doug immediately got out his power drill and within five minutes and were on our way.

The couple of spots we had in mind to spend the night didn’t pan out (both full) so we continued a little further down the coast to Sagres (recommended by yesterday’s waiter) and there we found a huge parking lot just for motorhomes and we were certainly not alone – a good fifty motorhomes were there with us.

It was a short walk to see the views and from there we saw a small beach bar down below that looked open (the other two did not) and we went down to sit for a drink.   This was a really nice beach with soft sand, soft waves and very wide.  It had a dramatic cliff as s drop back too; not sure why this place was not on the top ten list.

Then Fran got her first chance to put her feet in the water in Portugal – man it was really cold!  By now the fog was gone but the sky was not completely clear but it was much warmer than this morning.

We returned to Minou and spent a pretty quiet night.

It was another one tunnel day.

We awoke to mostly sunny skies and it looked promising for the day.  We wanted to check out a couple more beaches on our way to Lisbon.  After exercising and showers, we drove over to the Intermarché supermarket that’s offers free dumping and then drove northward to Praia Arrifana (one of the top ten beaches in the country).  We parked in a lot at the top of the cliff area and walked over to the viewing area to take a peak to decide if we should go down.

There were plenty of surfers here and the beach was okay but not as nice as the once yesterday at Sagres.  The beach was narrow and rocky at the edges.

So we moved on to find Praia Almagrave and it was nicer but still not as nice as Sagres in our opinion.  The weather was quite overcast by now and not warm enough to feel like sitting on the beach.

We wanted power tonight so Fran found a place about 10 km away in Vila Nova de Milfontes.  This place is quite large, has camping as well as bungalows and a huge pool that is not open at this time.  For 19eu we got a spot with power, Wi-Fi, water, dumping, a restaurant, a small supermarket, and other services we don’t need at this time.  It’s not on the beach but in town.

We got parked, got power and had lunch.  We both went for walks and then spent some time online.  The weather never got much better but it didn’t get too cool at all.

It was a very quiet night and Fran slept better (she’s had a nagging tickle in her throat since we returned to the EU – and hasn’t been sleeping well because she wakes up coughing; not long bouts but just enough to be annoying.  No other symptoms of anything.  We hit the road by 8:30 and made our way to Lisbon.  This part of Portugal is pretty green and blooming with wild flowers.

Here is where we first encountered cork trees.  They are about the size of olive trees but looked different and we could see the bark had been removed from many of them so it was puzzling until we looked it up.

Cork is one of Portugal’s biggest exports and it supplies about 60% of the world’s cork!

The cork oak is a medium-sized, evergreen oak tree. It grows southwest Europe and northwest Africa.

It grows to up to 20 m, but in its native environment it is usually not that tall. The leaves are 4–7 cm long, dark green above, paler beneath, with the leaf margins often downcurved. The acorns are 2–3 cm long.

The tree forms a thick, corky bark. Over time this bark can develop considerable thickness and this is harvested every 10–12 years as cork. The harvesting of cork does not harm the tree and a new layer of cork regrows, making it a renewable resource. Portugal accounts for 60% of the world cork harvest. Cork oaks cannot legally be cut down in Portugal, except for forest management felling of old, unproductive trees.

Cork oaks live about 150–250 years. Virgin cork (or ‘male’ cork) is the first cork cut from generally 25-year-old trees. Another 10–12 years is required for the second harvest, and a tree can be harvested a dozen times in its lifetime. Cork harvesting is done entirely without machinery.

Wine corks represent 15% of cork usage by weight but 66% of revenues.

Cork oaks are sometimes planted as individual trees. So they provide a small income to their owners. The tree is also sometimes cultivated for ornament. 

and this is a photo from Google showing how they remove the cork:

Here’s a link to more photos from our journey across Southern Portugal.  Click here.