Week 22 – Fuseta to Mérida via Loulé & Évora
Week 22 – Day 151 – Monday 26th February 2018
Fuseta – 0 miles
The omens are not good. Yesterday we read about ‘the Beast from the East’ about to hit the UK and bring more weather misery to all back home, and, wait for it, we have rain as well. We woke up to grey overcast skies and at breakfast drizzle appeared on the windscreens so we decided to go out and put the chairs and the bikes in the garage, just in case, and this turned out to be a good move, as by lunchtime it was pouring. Not only is it pouring, it is chilly as well. Was it only yesterday we were sitting out under blue skies enjoying our slap-up fishy lunch?
One of the issues you have to think about when leaving home for 6 months is what happens to all the ‘stuff’ in kitchen cupboards that would go off, or be out of date by the time we return. The Navigator’s solution was to bring it all with us so on our departure there was ‘stuff’ in every nook and cranny in the van. A fair amount of it has now been used up and been replaced with foreign ‘stuff’, but today, five months in, some flour that has been travelling with us for over 4,000 miles suddenly got transformed into good old fashioned scones which went down a treat with Lidl’s raspberry jam (a taste sensation) and a cuppa. I wonder what will be found in the back of a cupboard on the next rainy day!
Today has been one of four or five days we have been confined to the van because of rain. I’ve said it before, and make no apologies for saying it again – we have been so lucky with the weather since we left, grey skies, wind, and cold can be overcome with more layers of clothing, but when the rain is torrential there is no point going out in it.
Week 22 – Day 152 – Tuesday 27th February 2018
Fuseta – 0 miles
The rain has gone, its a bit grey early on but at least no rain. We are probably moving on tomorrow so after breakfast we decided to have a walk to the local indoor municipal market as The Navigator wanted some fruit & veg.
It was odd walking past the ‘restaurant’ we ate at on Sunday and seeing no tables and chairs, just a square of tarmac. One of the noticeable things for me on the fish counters at the market was the small size of the mackerel, I would have thrown them back in if I had caught any that size at Tarbert Pier, and the other thing that caught my eye was that very few of the fish on display were gutted.
After the market we headed towards a little grocery store we had seen near the station on Saturday but found one up a narrow street not far from the market. Not the biggest store at the best of time, made worse by it being in the middle of a delivery from a little lorry outside. There were boxes everywhere, and you had to watch where you put your feet, no customer health and safety here!
About 50 yards further on there was a little square with a few cafes/bars doing brisk business with people sitting outside enjoying coffee and drinks. It didn’t take too much persuading for The Navigator to take a seat and have a milky coffee while I had a glass of the white wine that most people seemed to be drinking. It turned out to be a slightly fizzy Lambrusco type of wine and it was admittedly rather good. Nearly all the tables were taken and once we picked up the language almost all the other customers were French, probably from the same campsite that we were on. Most had the same wine as me, a few had espressos and a few men had glasses of Port. In the time that it took The Navigator to drink her coffee, two French men in particular had 4 glasses of Port each! More and more French couples appeared and sat down in the group after the ritual handshake with all the men and a double kiss on the cheeks for the women.
We finished our drinks but I was tempted to try the Port that was going down so well, so I offered The Navigator another coffee but she too chose the Port, Ruby as it turned out. The glasses came and had a blue line circling them, obviously a measure marker but it had been ignored as there was double the quantity of the measure. It was lovely sitting there sipping our drinks and watching the ever growing population of Frenchies chatter away. The damage for one milky coffee, one white wine and 2 glasses of Port? €4 – everything was a euro!
Time to wander back to the van for lunch and as we did so a sudden fairly heavy shower came on but did not come to that much.
The afternoon was spent relaxing and doing bits and pieces although The Navigator had a bit of a tizz as she discovered that the ball of wool she bought last week was the wrong kind and would not be enough to finish the little cardi thing she was knitting. I stayed out of her way!
Week 22 – Day 153 – Wednesday 28th February 2018
Fuseta – 0 miles
As storm Emma meets the Beast from the East and brings the UK to a standstill, here on the Algarve the weather has turned for the worse as well, but on a completely different scale. Here the rain is of biblical proportions and is unrelenting, not drizzle or showers but a proper monsoon like rain that is belting down and causing a loud noise on the roof of the van, not particularly pleasant to listen to. If there is any kind of positive to be gleaned from the conditions it has to be the silencing of the pigeons that seem to continually coo coo, especially at daybreak and for most of the morning. It is also still mild and we have not needed heating on for over a month now which is saving us gas.
We were going to leave today but decided that the driving conditions would not be pleasant so have decided to hunker down and make use of the mains power to use the lap top and charge up the batteries for all our gizmos. The forecast for the next week is for unrelenting heavy rain and as we cannot afford to sit still for all that time, we will probably head off tomorrow, whatever the conditions.
As well as keeping an eye on the news and weather reports from back home we have also seen that the weather in Spain and other parts of Europe is bringing snow and it is slightly concerning to see pictures of towns and cities that we will soon be passing through covered in snow, especially in northern Spain. It was only 4 days ago we were lying on a beach!
Today we just relaxed, I did some work on the computer filing pictures and videos I have taken and The Navigator knitted and read most of the day. In the evening we listened to more podcasts as heavy thunder rumbled overhead and bright flashes of lightning illuminated the sky.
The only other thing of note, following on from Sunday’s 150 day anniversary of being on the road is todays anniversary of 5 months to the day since we left home on the 28th of September. I would urge anyone planning this sort of journey in the future to document it in some way, whether its a blog like this or a journal / diary accompanied by lots of pictures as it would be too easy to forget the places you have been to and the experiences you have had.
Week 22 – Day 154 – Thursday 1st March 2018
Fuseta to Loulé – 25 miles
It is the first of March and the start of our final month, which brings into focus our need to start the journey northwards and face up to whatever climatic conditions are in store for us. This morning we donned kagouls and moved the van to the service point to dump grey water and fill up the empty water tank again. As I was getting the electric cable rolled up an excited French woman came and started talking to me and the gist of it was she wanted our pitch if we were moving. Once I confirmed we were ideed leaving shortly she seemed to get even more excited and (I think) instructed her husband to get their chairs across to claim the pitch. It became apparent they had spent the last two nights under a tree which is not a good place to be as the drips onto your van roof seem to be bigger and therefore louder, and the other issue for them was their McLouis (as it happened) was covered in debris from the tree and their van was a bit of a mess.
After paying and exiting the site we headed west towards Faro before turning north to the hill town of Loulé, a place recommended to us by my old chum, Jones the Book, who has been on villa holidays in this area with his family. It was blowing a gale and chucking it down for most of the way but it cleared up as we arrived. Parking was not that easy but we found a large Continente supermarket so we stopped there for some shopping as we were running low on groceries and as we may have to hunker down again it is as well to be prepared. It was a good, if pricey store but we stocked up there anyway and also had lunch in their little cafe where the courgette soup was the winner for me, especially for 75 cents. Back at the van I checked the App to see if there was anywhere to stay over and it indicated there was a huge Lidl nearby with 4 dedicated overnight spaces so we thought it was worth a try and yet again we were lucky and drew in beside 2 French vans.
Although it was dry at this point we donned our kagouls and headed into the town centre. Loulé is a busy commercial centre and has an attractive old quarter and Moorish castle ruins, and its history goes back to the Romans.
The most striking building in the centre of town is the Arabian style market hall on Praça da República which is open every morning except Sunday. But it had finished by the time we arrived.
We had a walk down the main pedestrianised street and found a few cork shops. The Navigator is fascinated by the wide range of products that can be made from cork, but not tempted enough to buy anything.
What she did buy however was 3 balls of wool. We had passed it on the way down but there was no-one to be seen to help her so we went back in on our return up the street and this time there was an oldish woman behind the counter. It was a very old fashioned shop with too much stock accumulated over the years and I left the two of them to rummage about and went back outside only to be summoned back inside 10 minutes later to cough up €3 for the 3 balls of white wool.
The old quarter is just that but I have seen prettier ones, a lot of the buildings seemed in need of repair. What we did see however were crafty folk toiling away including and old cobbler and a couple of men working away in a little copperworks in a hole-in-the-wall workshop.
We returned to the van in the late afternoon just in time as the heavens opened up again so it was time for a cuppa and a relax.
Week 22 – Day 155 – Friday – 2nd March 2018
Loulé to Évora – 144 miles
Considering we were in Lidl car park beside a main road it was a quiet night apart from the rain battering down on the roof again, although thankfully it wasn’t constant as it has been in the past few nights. The 2 French vans beside us departed at 7.30 leaving us the only van there. We were ready to go at 9ish but decided to nip into Lidl for one or two things including my favourite Maribel raspberry jam, well, they gave us a free nights accommodation so it was only fair. We also took advantage of their toilet facilities to save on ours.
After all that it was time to go and start heading north in earnest today so the satnav was set for Évora, some 140 miles away. The drive took almost 3 hours in horrible driving conditions and uninspiring countyrside, but the quality of the road improved from the ploughed field that is the N125 in the eastern Algarve. There were a few towns en route with large and imposing hilltop castles dominating the skyline, but not imposing enough to make us detour.
We arrived in Merida just after noon and found the huge car park in the middle of town where overnight parking for motorhomes is permitted, there are no facilities, but it is free. When we arrived there was an incredible downpour and the wipers could hardly keep the windscreen clear but we made it in time to park up and watch torrents of water run off the roads in every direction. We had lunch and I had a brief siesta until the rain went off, then we kitted up and walked the short distance into the centre of the town. As I mentioned, the towns, villages and countryside we passed through to get here were less than impressive and conveyed a sense of neglect. Everything looked run down, and also noticeable was the lack of new car models on the roads, they all looked years old. Portugal is way down the league table of Europe’s wealthiest nations coming in 23rd and todays drive did nothing to dispute that ranking.
Having just decried Portugal, we find ourselves in a lovely little city full of quality buildings, impressive shops and many historical monuments. Due to its well-preserved old town centre, still partially enclosed by fully intact medieval walls, and a large number of monuments dating from various historical periods, including a Roman Temple, Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is ranked number two in the Portuguese most liveable cities survey, published yearly.
Roman Temple at Évora…
We enjoyed walking around taking in all the sights and getting soaked a few times as well.
On the way back to the van in the late afternoon we passed the main hospital which had a little coffee stall at the entrance so The Navigator was treated to a coffee, the cheapest yet at €0.70, and a Portuguese custard tart. I had one as well to accompany my English Breakfast tea and all of this was only €3. You could pay that for a coffee alone back in the UK! After dinner it was the usual Friday night ritual of watching YouTube videos.
Week 22 – Day 156 – Saturday 3rd March 2018
Évora to Mérida – 111 miles
Considering we were parked in the middle of a city it was a quiet night with the only noise coming from the rain hammering down on the roof of the van intermittently. After breakfast we set off for the final drive in Portugal, heading for the Spanish border then on to Mérida, yet another UNESCO World Heritage site as it was one of the most important cities in the Roman empire. Mérida preserves more important ancient Roman monuments than any other city in Spain, including a triumphal arch and a theatre. The drive along the N4 was superb with long straights and so a decent speed was attained. The N4 runs parallel to the A6 toll motorway and they are never further than a mile apart and when in view there was virtually no traffic on the motorway, probably a consequence of the tolls. With about 15km to the Spanish border the satnav took us on to the motorway as it was toll free on this section. As we crossed the border, the road became a dual carriageway all the way to Mérida.
As someone who loves all things Roman, Mérida was a must see destination on our route north so we had to stop here, pouring rain or not! Before we found our stopover location for tonight, there was a treat in store for The Navigator as unbeknown to her I had programmed the satnav to take us straight to the first Mercadona to be found in the city. It was nearly 3 weeks since her last shop in a Mercadona and this visit would let her stock up on her favourite products again, but we weren’t the only ones stocking up, it was mobbed, probably the busiest supermarket we had been in on our travels
From Mercadona it was a short journey to our stopover site for the next two nights in the city, close to the Roman sites that we are here to see. It rained heavily for the rest of the day so we did not venture out.
Week 22 – Day 157 – Sunday 4th March 2018
Mérida – 0 miles
We were roused from our slumbers at 4am with the most incredible rainstorm battering down on the roof of the van. It seemed to last for ages but we must have drifted off again at some point as it was just before 9 when we stirred. No time for a long lie in this Sunday morning as we were going to explore Mérida today, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993.
A potted Wikipedia history of Mérida.
The town was founded in 25 BC, with the name of Emerita Augusta, meaning the veterans of the army of Augustus, who founded the city by order of Emperor Augustus, to protect a pass and a bridge over the Guadiana river. Emerita Augusta was at one of the Vía de la Plata (Silver Way), a strategic Roman Route between the gold mines around Asturica Augusta and the most important Roman city in the Iberian Peninsula. The city became the capital of Lusitania province, and one of the most important cities in the Roman empire. Mérida preserves more important ancient Roman monuments than any other city in Spain, including a triumphal arch and a theatre.
Mérida was superb, a huge surprise. We had never heard of it until researching the route north from the Algarve recently, and it has turned out to be a wonderful place to visit, especially for someone who loves the Roman period in history. In fact it is so good it is going to get its very own stand alone blog post – so look out for ‘You will travel in a land of marvels – Mérida’, coming soon…
As there is the aforementioned stand alone blog coming with loads of pictures of our day here, I will keep this entry to the bare minimum, but still give you a flavour of what’s to come. There are too many Roman structures to mention, but these are the ones we had time to see today…
The Roman Amphitheatre.
The incredibly well preserved Roman Theatre.
The remains of the Forum, including the Temple of Diana.
The so-called Arch of Trajan.
The Puente Romano bridge over the Guadiana River, the longest surviving Roman bridge in the world.
And finally, there is the most amazing Museum displaying the best collection of Roman artefacts in Spain, if not Europe, if not the World – it is that good.
As well as all of the above to keep us busy there was also either a marathon or half marathon or 10k (we had no idea) taking place here today which passed through some of the Roman sites and finished in a square right in the centre of the city. It was very busy and there was a real sense of occasion in the town.
After watching some of the prize-giving we ventured off to have lunch and guess where we ended up – none other than The Navigator’s favourite Spanish lunch time venue – 100 Montaditos. Mercadona yesterday and 100 Montaditos today – its like winning the Spanish Lottery for The Navigator in Mérida.
After lunch it was down to the river to see the bridge and another site worth seeing – the Alcazaba fortress, which started off as a Roman fortress but what you see today is the work of the Moors and subsequent conquering armies.
We had a reviving tea and coffee on the way back to the van and made it back around 5.30pm just before the heavens opened up again, but at least we had a full day without rain to see the great historical buildings and artefacts in this must-see city.
COUNTDOWN – 1,739 MILES TO HOME!
To put this week into context here is the route we travelled…
Next week we continue heading northeast towards the Spanish / French border between San Sebastian and Biarritz, two of our favourite places in that part of the world. Will we linger in Spain or move straight through into France…
Stay tuned to find out…
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