Two peas in a pod

March - May 2022
Two peas in a pod on wheels traveling through South Europe. Let us know you’re following, leave a comment! :-)
  • 23footprints
  • 4countries
  • 61days
  • 397photos
  • 17videos
  • 6.8kkilometers
  • Day 1

    To inner peas & hap-pea-ness

    March 25, 2022 in the Netherlands ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    Well hello there!

    After five years of living in Singapore time has come for Tim and me to move back to The Netherlands. Being close to family and spending more time with them is a great thing, and we look forward to building our life here in the low lands. Still, saying goodbye to our Singapore family has been hard. We’ll need some time to physically and mentally settle - and what better way is there to ponder about life than through travel? (The answer: none!)

    Our lifelong dream of slow traveling through India has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 virus and related restrictions, hence we decided to find adventure closer to home and travel by campervan through the south of Europe. From the red little dot (Singapore) to our green little pod (the campervan), we’ll be riding from The Netherlands to Portugal and wherever else our hearts (and let’s be real - the sun) will take us. In other words: to inner ‘peas’ and ‘hap-pea-ness’!

    For anyone who’s just as curious as we are to see where we’ll be and what we’ll do, feel welcome to follow this trip and say hi through the comments!

    Love from two peas in a pod,
    Judith & Tim
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  • Day 4

    What's in a name? Donostia/San Sebastián

    March 28, 2022 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    After three sunny days of traveling through Belgium and France we reach the northern coast of Spain and arrive at our first real stop in the autonomous region of Basque Country. It’s a small town with a big reputation: Donostia (in Basque language), San Sebastián (in Spanish language), or Little Paris (its nickname).

    Basque, the language actively spoken in this region, is a unique language unrelated to any other language in Europe and has been spoken for more than 2000 years. Hello is not “Ola” but “Aizu”, thank you is not “Gracias” but “Eskerrik asko”, and to order tapas in Basque region one asks for “Pintxos” instead. The language is one of the beautiful characteristics of this region that has kept its autonomy for centuries: Vikings, Romans nor dictator Fransisco Franco could break the nationalism of Basque Country. As a result of Franco’s oppression, however, Basque Country could not obtain independence from Spain. While regaining significant autonomy after Franco’s death in 1975 some wanted full independence and turned to violence and terrorism: the armed organisation of ETA (“Basque Homeland & Liberty”) has been responsible for more than 800 deaths including Franco’s successor, Spanish military, police personnel, other political administrative figures, and 340 civilians. The now so peaceful streets of Donostia / San Sebastián and other cities in Basque Country were filled with riot police and locals were living in fear for decades. ETA only stopped their attacks after (not their first time) calling ceasefire in 2011, and have said to completely dissolve and dismantle the organisation as recent as 2018. Yet a drive for Basque independence remains, and peaceful Basque nationalism is very much alive amongst the locals.

    As we arrive in the afternoon we start off with a 8 KM walk through the hilly coastline right outside of Donostia / San Sebastián. The surroundings are beautiful and quiet; a silence that’s only interrupted by the bells of grazing goats on steep green slopes and an occasional cow mooing. The surroundings are exhausting, too: all the sitting we’ve done the past three days is rightfully compensated by some serious leg work going up and down the paths! Coming back to the tiny town of our camping for the night we join the regulars for some pintxos and a glass of wine in a local cafe. Life is good.

    Donostia / San Sebastián is most known for two things: its beautiful beaches and its food. In the morning we decide to first explore the sight of beaches. We take the local bus to mountain Igueldo and ascend with a funicular train to the summit to enjoy fabulous views of the La Concha bay. After taking it all in, we descend and take a walk on the boulevard along the beach and towards the old centre of the city. This old quarter starts with the magnificent Town Hall, situated in a building that was originally built as a casino in 1887. It was the extravagance of this type of buildings that contributed to the city earning the nickname “Little Paris”. The rich and wealthy of Europe came to this place for spectacular parties. During the First World War the casino was home to European political refugees and spies, including the Dutch Mata Hari. In 1947 the building became the city’s Town Hall. The rest of the old quarter is no less beautiful. We walk the cobbled streets, past various churches and Plaza de la Constitución. This is where the Town Hall used to be and where people would pay the government for a seat on one of the numbered balconies to watch bull fights. As we are walking we are soon welcomed by the scents of that other thing the city is famous for: food!

    Donostia / San Sebastián is ranked #1 as “best food destination in the world”, before Tokyo and New York. The city of just 180.000 people has nine (!) Michelin-star restaurants and on every corner you find a bar serving delicious pintxos (tapas). Therefore it’s no surprise we see some food loving Singaporean tourists walking around! Tim and I skip the Michelin-star places and go for the small local pintxos bars instead. For both lunch and dinner we indulge in a variety of little bites and some wines, including the local Txakoli wine. What a feast!

    Between lunch and dinner we do some more leg work and hike up another mountain. Here we find the ruins of a castle, a sunny terrace for drinks, and views that might be even prettier than those from Monte Igueldo. Definitely worth the climb! Ending the day with a stroll past the city’s river and collection of bridges and into the newer part of town, one day of visiting is enough for us to understand why so many people are raving about this place. No matter the name used, and aside from political aspirations, as per Shakespeare’s wisdom: “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet”.
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  • Day 5

    Gaztelugatxe & Bilbao

    March 29, 2022 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    As we travel on, clouds appear and the weather becomes a bit more chilly. It’s the perfect weather to visit Gaztelugatxe, or “Castle Rock”. Gaztelugatxe is a cinematic little island that was used as a filming location for Game of Thrones (Dragonstone), but only at times of gloomy weather to add to the series’ vibes. Or so Tim told me as I have never watched any episode of the show. :) I can attest to it being a beautiful place though. The island hosts a little church and is remarkably attached to the mainland by a man-made zigzag bridge. Unfortunately at the time of our visit the bridge was closed for maintenance and we weren’t able to walk the 241 stairs to the island. Luckily it was also very rewarding to do a hike around the area with great views of the castle and Bay of Biscay.

    In the afternoon we visit Bilbao. We park our campervan at a secured camper parking on top of a hill, providing a nice view of the city at our feet. Taking a bus down town we visit the famous Guggenheim Museum - both the outdoor and indoor art is worth the watch - and we explore the streets of the old quarter by foot. I thought San Sebastián was a great place to be, but walking through Bilbao I enjoy this city even more! With about 15% of its population being students there’s a certain buzz to it; it’s a lively and beautiful city. We again avoid the task of cooking in a campervan as we can’t resist to also try the pintxos in Bilbao before taking the bus back to our scenic parking lot.

    So far we are enjoying the camper trip: we are finding our way in the little van and get more and more organised both in placing / finding our stuff and having each our own tasks “in the household”. Tim is the main driver and is informally responsible for stuff like filling the water tank, changing the bed to sofa and vice versa, and finding ourselves the nicest spots for the night. I on the other hand take care of things like getting us ready to camp vs drive in terms of indoor organisation, cooking, doing the dishes, identifying the touristy hot spots on the way, and being the emcee to our road trip playlist entertaining Tim along the way (any favourite road trip songs you’d recommend?!). Including some pics of the sleeping spots we’ve had so far!
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  • Day 7

    The coast of Cantabria & Asturias

    March 31, 2022 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    We travel the next couple of days from one coastal town to another, keeping the Bay of Bisque in sight while we drive into another autonomous region of Spain: Cantabria. Our first stop after leaving Bilbao is the medieval village called Santillana del Mar. Thanks to its name, it’s also known as the city of three lies: it is not holy (Santa), it is certainly not flat (Llana), and it’s not by the sea either (del Mar). By the high number of souvenir shops we can tell it gets crowded with tourists during peak season, however during our visit the streets are almost empty. We spend about two hours in town, and don’t leave without trying the local specialty of a glass of milk with a piece of Quesada: a Spanish version of cheesecake. Thanks to this treat we can postpone lunch with a few hours as it’s delicious but also very filling.

    The next town on our route, Comillas, is actually at sea. The main purpose of our visit here is El Capricho de Gaudí: one of the few projects by the famous architect Antoni Gaudí outside of Catalonia. Like with his other work this house is not just brilliant in contextual and functional design, it’s also full of fun metaphors and hints to the passions of Gaudí himself (nature and organic designs) as well as of the client commissioning the project, Don Maxímo Díaz (music). We learn all about it through a well done free audio tour - making this place so much more special to experience. As the house was custom designed in all its details to fit the lifestyle and preferences of the owner, Maxímo Díaz, we were sad to learn that Maxímo only got to live there seven days after it finished as by bad fortune he then died. What an amazing place it must have been to live in.

    We find our stop for the night in a third coastal town in yet another Spanish region: Llanes in Asturias. As it’s very early in season we need to put in a little work to find a nice camping that’s actually open, and so it’s to our surprise that the large and scenic camping we do find is completely empty except for some permanent stalled guests. We are greeted by a jolly man introducing himself in broken English as “the husband who was told to stay put at the reception while the boss wife went out to town”. When we explain to him we don’t need electricity for the night he tells us jokingly: “No power?! You need power! Power to drive! Power to hike! POWERRR!”. As Tim follows us by campervan, “the husband” and I walk up the slopes of the camping while he keeps singing the theme song of Pipi Longstocking and making many stops along the way to point out multiple locations of toilets, showers (with ranking of which is better to use), and a (closed) camping supermarket. A good opportunity of Tim to perfect the slope test with the green pod - I can see his confused expression from behind the window when we make yet another stop without reaching a destination. Eventually we are pointed to three different fields to choose from, however two out of three are discouraged actively if we plan to leave tomorrow: the changeable weather and soft grounds will likely sink the van into the muds. So much for choice :) And just as “the husband” finishes the tour, a hailstorm (?!) starts pouring down - he runs away laughing “I told you about the fields!” and we settle wisely for a hard ground spot looking out to a beautiful cliff & private beach. Cooking is done inside the van this time, but during dinner skies have cleared. We take a stroll down the beach before we head to bed.

    The next day we go back to the private beach and walk a bit further to enjoy the stunning views of the Spanish coastline here. We explore the town of Llanes a bit more while it starts raining again - the regions of Cantabria and Asturias are known for being very green the entire year and it becomes clear to us it requires a good mix of sun and rain to make that happen. Our second stop down the route is Bufones de Pria. A formation of limestone cliffs along the water gives us a fantastic view, but also impressive sounds! Sea water finding its way into tunnels of the cliffs coming out in holes above the ground gives an incredible sound. The sea is too quiet today to actually splash water above the ground but it’s still a pretty cool experience.

    We end the day in Ribadesella, just because it happens to have a random camping nearby, with the now familiar variety of warm sunshine followed by hailstones. With a good glass of wine, a collection of Spanish cheese and sausages and a very happy call from family in The Netherlands we can’t be bothered. Good night!
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  • Day 13

    Final days Spain + celebrative stopover

    April 6, 2022 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Santiago de Compostela: a place that likely rings a bell even if you’re not much of a religious person or a adventurous traveler. There are various famous long routes that lead up to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and they have been traveled by pelgrims for thousands of years. According to Christian tradition, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, Saint James, was beheaded in Palestina in the year 44 AD before his body was put to sea on a stone boat by his disciples. The boat landed on the coast of Spain, just near of where Santiago now is. His remains were buried in a specially built chapel, later becoming the large cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Besides Rome and Jerusalem it then became the most popular pelgrimage destinations and remained to be so to this day.

    With expectations raised high, we are a little disappointed to pass the town’s welcome sign midst industrial buildings and streets characterised by concrete and lack of colour. After having parked our campervan at the local camping, we walk down towards the cathedral following the scallop shell shaped signs on the ground (the scallop shell is the symbol for the pelgrimage) and are a still little underwhelmed by this famous pelgrim route’s final kilometers. We wonder how the walking and cycling pelgrims experience this: after all the hardship of their travels they too might have expected a more sensational arrival at their final destination. However soon we reach the old quarter of town. Here we find the narrow winding streets we expected. There is no straight way to the cathedral and we even loose sight of the shell signs walking our way there. Then, suddenly, we find ourselves on this large square and look upon the cathedral as well as three other historical buildings being the parlement building, a college building and a hotel. The cathedral provides an impressive sight and is beautiful! We are lucky to visit just short of a year after renovations have completed and the cathedral’s façade can again be admired in its full glory since being hidden by scaffolds for long eight years.

    The interior of the cathedral is just as impressive in size and decorations. One of the many highlights is the Botafumeiro, which is world’s largest incense burner. It measures 1,5 meter and weighs 54 kg! When being used on special occasions it is swung from side to side all the way up to the ceiling with speeds up to 68 km/hour, pulled by a group of red-robed men. Thanks to my dad we know to ask for when this event happens to take place as pelgrims can also request (pay) for it outside of the scheduled dates. You can imagine we are thrilled to hear the event will take place this very evening! After attending the mass (all in Spanish but accompanied by a nun singing pure like an angel) five men come out and start lightning and swinging the Botafumeiro. The size, the speed, the scent… it’s a magical experience that we won’t forget.

    The next morning we move our campervan from the camping to a secured campervan parking nearby, as we have an important pitstop to make outside of our holiday route and need to make our way to the airport… that happy phone call I mentioned in the previous post was my sister Marleen and her fiancé Jeroen calling to introduce us to the newest member of our family: their daughter Vera Sofie Mulder is born on the last day of March! Since Spain isn’t that far away from The Netherlands and we’re keen to meet Vera in person we fly back and spend two days with Vera and family before returning back to Santiago and continuing our trip. It’s a break we are glad to take, and it’s very worthwhile being able to hold Vera as a newborn and support Marleen and Jeroen in little ways during this short time. Hip hip hooray! *happy dance*

    As precious as the time with Vera and others was, we are happy to return to our green pod (and the sun + 20 degrees celcius) in Spain. Our last 1,5 day in Spain before driving into Portugal are spent at the coast of A Lanzada, still in the region of Galicia. We find ourselves a cute little camping hosted by a Dutch guy and his wife. As weather is pleasant and the view on the Atlantic Ocean is magnificent we chill the afternoon with a bite, a book, and the hope to spot some dolphins in the ocean below. Apparently they are regularly spotted from the camping side but it will turn out we’re in no luck to see them during our stay. Ah well, it’s pretty amazing without them in sight! The view gets even more amazing when the sun sets. We take it all in at the cliffs just outside of the camping.

    On Wednesday we wake up to more cloudy weather, and we set out on a 18 KM hike from A Lanzada to O Grove. It’s a nice hike that starts up the cliffs next to the camping, continuing along the beaches and dunes of Praia Da Lanzada, and takes us steep up through a forest and over rocky paths around Ardia. The last bit is through a forest of giant trees and a delicious scent. At first we are a bit confused seeing a whole forest of trees that look like and smell like Eucalyptus - can it really be that this tree native to Australia is growing here? At lunch in O Grove we learn (thanks Google) we spotted it correctly: a Galician monk brought Eucalyptus seeds back from Australia in the 19th century. It adapted so well to the local climate of Galicia that it spread rapidly into large forests. Some of the older trees are 67 meter tall and 10.5 meter in circumference! I’m now carrying a leaf from the Eucalyptus in my bag where I keep my fabric face mask, making wearing it (still mandatory indoors in Spain) almost (almost!) a mini spa experience. Lunch itself is also a pleasure: as it’s already 15:00 pm most spots were closed for siesta (the rather long midday break common in Spain) we find a place that offers a three course lunch including a drink for only €14 pp! Our starters are tomato toast (me) and razor clams (Tim), our main is a shared pan of Arroz Caldoso: a typical local dish similar to paella but more soupy and totally delicious, and for dessert we share one Spanish tarta de queso (cheesecake) and caramel flan. Such a fulfilling lunch. A short walk through the town of O Grove and a local bus trip later, we are back at the camping to enjoy the evening relaxing and only having some salad for dinner as we are still full of the late lunch feast. Tomorrow we’ll be leaving Spain for Portugal, our main destination for this trip.
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  • Day 15


    April 8, 2022 in Portugal ⋅ 🌧 14 °C

    Leaving Spain for now, we know that we are reaching the natural border to Portugal when the river “Miño” (Spanish) becomes “Minho” (Portuguese) halfway across the bridge. Considering the not so great weather forecasted for the next few days it is the second time in our trip that we decide to skip a national park, Peneda-Gerês this time, and we head straight to the city Porto. In the city of Portugal’s most famous exports – Port wine – we can be sure that the forecasted rain won’t kill the mood so much.

    Our camping site is somewhat outside of the city and is located directly next to a beach. The big waves give a beautiful sight from the entrance, however we soon come to realise that the view is perhaps one of the few good things this camping has to offer. Our main goal being traveling around we don’t mind the lesser scenic campgrounds (or even a camper parking if well secured for the night), but this one gets no more than two stars by our ranking – and we’re being generous. The campsites are very small so we are side to side to our Dutch and English neighbours, the facilities are old and dirty, the toilets don’t have seats, there’s no hot water for doing dishes and just when we think a hot shower can make up for it all… the shower only seems to work at 40+ degrees Celsius and is practically too hot to stand under. But, in the end, we got what we came for: a place to sleep.

    On the day of our arrival we take transport the “Singaporean way” we came to enjoy so much in the tropics: we book a “Free Now” (something like Uber / Grab / Gojek) to save ourselves travel time to the city center. The driver of the Mercedes Benz C Class it obviously very well acquainted with the streets to and of Porto – while I squeeze my own hands and hope for the best, he races through the narrow streets and turns right or left without tiring his brakes. We do arrive safe and sound in the end, getting some tips for sightseeing and food from the guy before we (somewhat happily) get out. In Porto we quickly learn it’s useful to plan your route well to avoid walking up and down the long steep slopes of the city, we admire the cathedrals that are just as pretty as they are plenty, we are loving the colourful tiled facades of the houses, we are amazed about some of these houses still hosting residents as they look like they can fall apart at any moment, and we enjoy the sunshine popping through just when we need it for the day. I can see why Porto is such a loved city as it breathes strong “Burgundian” vibes and it looks absolutely beautiful. One of the highlights of today is the Sé de Porto (Cathedral of Porto) with its blue tiled decorations (and perhaps a little because we witness the spectacle of the police arresting a guy while searching his car just in front of us – although it doesn’t become clear what he’s arrested for). Another highlight is what we think is the bridge designed by Eiffel. While it indeed has strong resemblance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, we are a little ashamed to admit that it was actually a bridge designed by a student of Eiffel and that it also strongly resemblances a bridge one kilometre to the east that was actually by Mr. Eiffel himself. I guess we’ll have to come back one day to make up for this little mistake. A mistake, by the way, we made BEFORE visiting one of the Port houses for a tour in the cellars and port tasting with live fado music (see video for an impression). We end the day again the “Singaporean way”: we heard of a very little and very good restaurant with local specialities in town and when we find it we have to join a queue of locals on the street waiting to enjoy the food. The Dutch in us tells us that the restaurant across the street – no queue – looks nice and warm, too, but the Singaporean in us provides us with the wisdom to wait and brave the cold of the night. About 45 minutes later we step inside and immerse ourselves in local delicacies (some kind of kale soup with chorizo, various tapas and the famous Francesinha: a Porto style sandwich that you should probably eat only once a year if you don’t want your heart to give up (Or maybe two days in a row, if you’re only two days in Porto anyways… We may or may not have risked the heart attack, either way we’re here to tell how the adventure went on!).

    The next day we are less fortunate with the weather: we wake up to rain and it does not stop until the end of day. As we still have a lot of sightseeing to do, we do get around while taking shelter in more Cathedrals (I think every corner of Porto has one), local cafes serving fresh Pastel de Nata (Egg Tart), a beautiful bookshop that inspired J.K. Rowling for her Harry Potter books (we didn’t know it was such a tourist attraction, luckily we bought tickets online to avoid a 30 meter long queue in the rain!), and other city highlights until even our waterproof shoes and bags decide it’s just too much rain for a day and we head home for our semi-warm bed and some well-deserved sleep.
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  • Day 17

    Holy week in Braga, “Rome of Portugal”

    April 10, 2022 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    It’s almost mid-April and the holy week, the week before Easter, is here. There is no better place in Portugal to spend (some of) the holy week than in Braga. Braga is the oldest city in Portugal and lies a little more North than Porto, and was founded by the Romans in the year 16 BC. It is very religious and for that reason if also known as the “Rome of Portugal”. It by far does not attract the number of visitors like Porto does, but I honestly enjoyed Braga more than Porto because it wasn’t so touristy and more authentic. It does share the same beauty as Porto: the decorated facades, the many cathedrals, the cobbled narrow streets… Tim can account for the many (many) times I have said “Oh, I could live here!” during this trip but I think Braga could actually be a place where I could settle for a while. But don’t worry, dear family, we do intend to come back to Netherlands!

    Adding to the charm of this town we find a little bookshop that hides a secret garden at the back, serving tea and cake that we can not resist to enjoy in the sun now that the rain is gone. In the evening (after a lot of walking and sightseeing done) we find a cute vegetarian restaurant that serves a free-flow buffet of deliciousness. After dinner, the day isn’t over yet! As we have waited for it to be 21:30, when the very first procession for the holy week in Braga takes place. It is the evening before Palm Sunday and this procession is therefor short but sweet. As a statue of Jesus is walked through the streets we follow the procession from one church to another, listening to the people sing religious songs in Portuguese. It’s a special experience. (video attached)

    We continue our holy week activities the next day when we visit the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte: a cathedral that’s located on top of a hill. To reach it, we climb 577 steps. It turns out to be a very enjoyable 577 steps as the staircase up is all in baroque style and again beautifully decorated all the way up. We find chapels that each tell a part of the story of Jesus’ sacrifice as well as statues and fountains built as part of the stairs. Finally we reach the top and conclude that the cathedral itself is also worth the climb, especially now that it’s decorated with palm branches for the holy week. Fun fact: while 577 steps may seem like a climb for anyone, some pilgrims apparently walk the steps on their knees! I shared with Tim that walking the steps on their knees seems like a undoable task, imagining someone going up keeping their body up straight and climbing on their knees only. I even went as far trying to demonstrate how they may have done it as I couldn’t quite grasp how this would be physically done. Of course, Tim burst out laughing, helping me to the brilliant insight that they would probably do it on both hands AND knees. That makes much more sense… (still tiring, I reckon!).

    After the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus Do Monte we climb the hills some more to arrive at yet another beautiful church and view. At this location we take a local bus back to town. At 17:30 we need to be ready for the Palm Sunday procession! This one is much bigger and clearly draws a lot more attention from the people of town. There’s a lot of people dressed up as characters from the Biblical story of Palm Sunday and the same Jesus statue as used in yesterday’s procession is walked down the streets. While Palm Sunday symbolises Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem this procession enacts the crucifixion and the steps Jesus had to climb to the Calvary where he’d die. Mid-way the procession, where Jesus meets his mother, there’s a service held outdoors before the procession continues, now including a statue of the Holy Mary too. It’s very different from the day before yet just as impressive to witness (The video includes this procession too). One thing beautiful to see is that Braga has paired their Holy Week celebrations and decorations with their sympathy and prayers for Ukraine: for example, the yellow-blue flag is prominently in the middle of one of the town’s biggest festival decor. It is heartwarming to see that everywhere we go in this trip - big cities and the smalles towns - we find the Ukraine flag hanging from both government buildings and people’s homes. Hopefully this will continue to reflect the countries’ political support.

    Submerged in Easter vibes, we leave the sweet little town of Braga while it will continue with celebrations the whole rest of the week without us.

    PS: If anyone knows what music the procession band is playing please do comment as I thought it was absolutely beautiful 😊
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  • Day 19

    Green hills countryside of Douro

    April 12, 2022 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Having seen quite enough cathedrals in the last few places we’ve visited, our next destination is the famous countryside of the Douro Valley for a change of scenery. The Douro region is a UNESCO World Heritage site, for it being the oldest demarcated (i.e. defined by strict boundaries) wine region in the whole world. And, of course, because it’s insanely beautiful! At the time of our visit there aren’t any grapes growing yet as the vines are just coming to life in early spring. Only small buds of green can be seen bursting from the branches. Thanks to the olive trees and blossoming cherry and almond trees there is plenty of other green in the environment and it is a beautiful sight regardless.

    We follow a few specific roads along the Douro river that lends its name to the region, and make a first night stop at the town of Lamego. As it turns out, we can’t escape cathedrals here either: the town is home to another magnificent church with another impressive 686 steps well decorated leading to it. While being there to see it anyway, we do admit it is quite spectacular. Not one cathedral is the same! At first we count ourselves lucky as the campground we are staying at is at level with the church, so we are saved from the climb to reach it. However, then we are brave (or stupid?) enough to also want to see a bit of the town below - a cute place, but maybe not entirely worth the climb that follows back to our green pod.. ah well. It counts for daily steps!

    The next day we move on in our van, following the river once more. Where river and road part we pause for an one hour boat tour and take all of the scenery in. The boat comes with an audio tour (one of those recorded ones) but unfortunately we can’t make much of what’s being said; we are accompanied by a bunch of loud Americans on the boat who are clearly not on the ride for the informative side of it. Any annoyance we have towards these people being loud turns into wonder after about 20 minutes when one American lady yells from one side of the boat to the other: “Ben? Is that you, Ben?! Oh my god it is!”. Next thing we know we witness a reunion of two ex-colleagues, both from America and on a holiday in Portugal, who apparently haven’t seen each other for ten years. It’s a small world…!

    This time, our stop for the night is at another beautiful and special place: we are staying at an actual vineyard and we are staying there FOR FREE! The Dutch in us do get excited over this, furthermore when we discover a tour being included for the next morning without cost too. I can’t help but ask the owner why he’s letting people stay there for free (while providing a nice spot + facilities). He laughs and tells us that the main business they run is the vineyard / wine production and they enjoy having people around. Sometimes guests are helping out on the land and hopefully they are enjoying their wine and spreading the word. The extra pair of hands is no luxury we learn the next day, as the town has shrunk from about 20.000 people to 5.000 people in less than forty years. The depopulation of the area is a real problem here, like in many other countryside areas around the world. I hope there will be enough wine loving people around locally to continue producing these wines, and that it will not be taken over by big investors who aren’t in it for the love of wine. The vineyard we stay at is a family business and currently handled by the second generation. When we ask the owner how they see their vineyard business continue after the current generation of people, he laughs once again at our apparently business minded questions. His son and nephews, now all still very young, have three choices in about 20 years, he says cheerfully: (1) they can continue the business as per the family tradition; (2) they can decide to sell it and have good money for it; or (3) they can throw a big party finish the thousands of bottles with great aged wine at once. “That is why,” he continues, “you should keep an eye out on our social media channels. You don’t want to miss this great party in 20 years time!”.

    The highlight of our stay in the Douro is the tour we get at this particular vineyard. The quality and wealth of information we get here is in no comparison to what we learned from the tour *cough* sales pitch *cough* at the wine cellars of Porto and it’s brought to us with so much passion and expertise. Just alone hearing the guy talk like that is a joy! To illustrate what kind of learnings we had during this tour:
    - The Douro region grows its grapes on terraces of a specific type of metamorphic rock, that protects the grapes from too much heat during the day by absorbing the warmth of the sun and keeping it consistently warm at night by radiating it back up. Now we know why all the vines in Douro grow so low to the ground! We were wondering about this in the past few days. Hills with other stone like granite can not be used for wine to quantify as Douro wines.
    - Seeing olive trees scattered in some of the vineyards signifies that they are old (100+ years) vineyards: when people did not have weather forecasts available to them the olive trees were of great help to protect the grapes from unexpected heavy wind and/or rain. Newer vineyards don’t need these anymore.
    - The rose bushes seen at most vineyards have a similar function: when the area is plagued by fungi, rose bushes are the first to get sick hence the farmers would know they should immediately take action to protect the vines.
    - The taste of the same type of grapes can differ a lot depending on many factors, such as at what direction the slope is facing the sun.
    - Only red wines (vs whites and roses) ages in oak barrels for the best possible flavours, others get bottled immediately after fermentation or else they would be too strong.

    All of that being most interesting, it should not be needed to be said that the most fun part of the tour is the tasting. More fun for me than for Tim as he still needs to drive and therefore needs to spit most of the wine out (like a pro), while I just drink anything I want (like a… well whatever!). We get to taste a delicious extra vierge olive oil, local cheese, a white wine, a rose, three red wines and… we may or may not have tasted of a port that may or may not have been there in an unlabelled and secret bottle. The short story: wine becomes port when before the aging process kicks in the fermentation of the wine is stopped at a certain sugar vs alcohol level, this is done by adding in strong spirits (brandy), in 2000 the Portuguese government made local production of brandy illegal as they wanted farmers to sell the grapes for central brandy production and then buy the product back at much higher cost for more tax income, however since port takes its sweet time to age in barrels there are - in theory, that is - still bottles that were produced and put in barrels before the year 2000 and are just coming of age nicely around the current time of living. If they were there, and I emphasise IF, they might have just been the best ports one could taste!

    If we ever pour you a sweet strong wine from a mysterious bottle while reminiscing about the Douro, please remember not to ask any questions :-)
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  • Day 23

    Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela

    April 16, 2022 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    It’s funny that most campgrounds we stay at are run by people who migrated to Portugal rather than by locals. And many of them are Dutch, as is the case with the owners of the cute “campismo” in the nature park Serra da Estrela where we end up for three nights. It’s a small and green campground with beautiful views of the valley. As the weather is warm and sunny for days in a row now, we use the opportunity to do our laundry and relax a little more. Reading a book (I’m in the midst of Dracula, the classic I bought at the Harry Potter bookstore in Porto and that I can’t put down), playing some games (Clever, Mölkky), eating freshly made traditional Portuguese Easter bread, joining the campground yoga class, and - because we can’t help ourselves - taking a long stroll through the town of Melo. As we have been quite busy going from one highlight to the other, it is nice to take it extra slow these few days.

    We do take a full day to explore the nature park around us: driving a loop with our van we admire the scenery. The valley of the park by glacial movement during the ice age, which is why aside from lakes and meadows we can also see huge rocks lay about. It is also the only place in Portugal where one can ski in winter - we can even see some leftover snow when visiting the highest point of the country (1993 meter).

    We pause our drive for a 12 km hike. Once more we train our legs while we climb up the rocky paths that sometimes look more like a waterfall than a walkway (only one of us makes it back to the van with dry feet, I’ll leave it for you to guess who :-)). The hike goes up to a artificial lake with a sci-fi kind of hole in it to collect extra water for a lower located lagoon and water dam. The water travels down more than 1500 meter; it must have been quite the task to make!

    With tired legs, rested minds and laundry done we are good to travel on.
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  • Day 24


    April 17, 2022 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    Back to city life: the next stop is the lovely city of Coimbra. Located on a hill and providing a good first view of the city, our first visit is to the Universidade de Coimbra (the university of Coimbra). Being one of Europe’s eldest (founded in 1290) it is a historical highlight to visit. The main attraction here is the “Baroque Library”, a place that not only keeps many first editions and historical documents but is also considered to be one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. It’s a little hard to convince you without pictures as we weren’t allowed to take any (rest assured you can google it if you are curious enough) but, maybe, you can try to imagine it… There’s three main rooms of the library that can all be seen from the entrance: they are all square halls with high ceilings and only separated by large decorated arches. The light is dim, and the smell is somewhat dusty. Just like what you’d expect in a very old library ;-). Each room is beautifully decorated: the wood used for the shelves is carved and painted, the ceilings are displaying baroque style paintings too, there’s a lot of gold to be seen and there’s many old looking books wherever you look, all the way up to the ceiling. To reach the higher placed books there’s both little wooden balconies as well as those type of library ladders you mostly see in the movies. We can’t see it, but the shelves of this library house more than just books. There are bat families taking their residence! As they help to get rid of flies and other insects that could harm the paper of books they are well looked after: it actually helps in the conservation of all these classics!

    The rest of campus was nice for a walk but nothing else impressed us as much as the library. The next day we take our time to explore the rest of Coimbra. We walk through little streets and see more coloured houses in the old center, we visit the botanical garden, and we enjoy a few other parks walking and relaxing… it’s a nice day of strolling around and taking in the vibes of this place. Let the pictures speak for themselves…
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