Lisbon, the Capital city of Portugal, is one of the oldest cities in the world, predating other modern European cities, such as London, Paris, and Rome by centuries. Parking in the Jeronimos area of the city, it was easy to commute to the centre to see the sights. The wonderfully, cheap, and iconic, old tram system being the transport of choice, once there. Packed, and with the local children, clinging to the sides, we used the trams for all the must-see sites, like the Alfama region, with its cheap and cheerful, bars and restaurants. And the Castello de Sao Jorge, which stands majestically on a hill, overlooking the city. The battlements of Castelo de Sao Jorge provide fantastic views of the Baixa district and the Rio Tejo (River Tagus) while the fortified citadel is steeped in history.
Before leaving Lisbon, we met some friends, who, were visiting for the night. And after a meal, in the Cervejaria Trinidade, a Restaurant, on the site of an old monastery, in the Baixo Chiado, district. We came across a skeleton, of a Church, on a hill, overlooking the city. Which, luckily for us, was hosting a concert. And stepping inside, away from the bustling night life, we experienced ‘Elgar's, Pomp and Circumstance,’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory,’ played by an amazing Philharmonic Orchestra. A surreal, and wonderful, memory.
As we drove out of the city, we once again appreciated the beauty of Portugal, in its wild, western, coastline, and dramatic, Atlantic Ocean. Stopping for a break, we explored an old Sanctuary, and the Church of ‘Our Lady of the Cape’, at Cabo Espischal, in the civil parish of Castelo. Where, Our Lady, is said, to have appeared in the 13th Century. Crumbling walls, which, separated the vegetable gardens, of 11th Century Monks, are scattered over the hills. As well as clearly, defined remnants of an ingenious, aqua duct system, designed to provide water for the Sanctuary. According to a copy of the original plans, the sanctuary, also housed public baths, a theatre, and an opera house too.
Encouraged, by the motorhomes already parked overlooking the ocean. We settled down, for the night, in a breath-taking spot. The next morning however, we woke to find the Burkemobile, surrounded by a busy market. Stall holders, were setting up their fruit & veg, fresh fish, and meat stalls. Shame-faced, and unable to move, we crept outside to mingle with the locals, as we waited for the market, to pack up. No wonder our prime spot was vacant. Afterwards, we quickly, moved to a spot, closer to the small café. And the next morning, were invaded by leather-clad bikers. ‘’They meet every Sunday’’ said the café owner, proudly, serving dozens of fearsome, looking, bikers with coffees and dainty, custard tarts.
Our next stop, in Pago de Altar, set by a beautiful lake, was spoiled, by unpredictable stray, dogs, and an abundance of flies. We christened one little dog, who, visited every day, Boo, after the song- (Me and you, and a dog named Boo’). And over the next few weeks, discovered from other couples, who’d camped here, that our little Boo, was also known as, Charlie, Rover and Jake.
On our way to Alcacer do Sal, in the Setubal district. We stopped, to allow an army of crayfish, from the Sado River, to cross the busy road. And heads, raised and holding up pincers, they seemed to be thanking us, for not running them over. Not only, were they an easy target for the storks, that feasted on the cockroaches, in the rice fields. The road ahead, was covered in red splodges of the crayfish, already flattened, by the speeding, Portuguese drivers.
Unable to find any parking at Praia de Melides, a stunning area, famous for its lagoon. We drove further down the sandy road, towards the beach. Finding no sign, of the promised campsite, we turned back. And before we knew it, the front wheel, started to spin, and we were axle deep, in soft sand. Richard, wedged blocks under the wheel, but the tyre wouldn't grip. And the more we revved the engine, the worse it became. Two, curious old gentlemen, pointed to a group of fishermen on the vast, deserted, beach. And so, shoes in hand, I made my way down to the shore with no idea, how to communicate the problem.
The fishermen, glanced briefly as I gave them my friendliest smile. And then, they carried on chatting. ‘We’re stuck in the sand’ I blurted, loudly, as if they were hard, of hearing. There was an uncomfortable silence, as they stared at me. And then, they carried on talking again.
'We need help', I tried again, making revving noises, and wheel spinning, motions with my hands.
And at last, curious to find out what the unhinged woman, was talking about, they followed me. ‘Ahhhhh ’ they said, watching Richard, burrowing at the sand, like a rabbit. And roping in the help of a friend, who’d just pulled up. They gathered drift wood, to use with the blocks. Then, with youngest, controlling the steering. And the others, shunting the Burkemobile, back and forth, they freed us from the sand. And judging by their laughter, which, we heard all the way, back down to the shore. I think we made their day.
We couldn’t believe that we were permitted, to park free, on the white, sandy beach of Sao Andre. Quiet and peaceful, it was like paradise, with the sun, creating little, rainbows, in the tumbling, turquoise spray. The only hint of tourism, amidst its natural beauty, being a shabby chic, Hotel, Restaurant, by the sea. Across the way, the Portuguese authorities had kindly provided, water for the motorhomes, a place to empty any waste, and rustic, cold showers which, we fully, appreciated in the searing heat. And in no hurry to move on, we stayed for a few, blissful, days.
After leaving the Idyllic, beauty spot, behind us, we found ourselves camped in probably the most unusual place so far. On a cliff top in Carveliero, Beja, overlooking the sea, with lighthouse, directly, behind us.
At night, the sky became a mass of twinkling stars, so low, it felt like we could touch them. And with the lighthouse beacon, flashing behind us, it felt like we were on the moon.
Helen Burke explores
Portugal by Burkemobile
Report by Helen Burke