Friday, 22 January 2010

Tourist Traps - Tick! and the Edge of the Western World

written 15th January

Obidos is a mediaeval village full of whitewashed cottages enclosed within a Moorish wall built during their invasion of the Iberian peninsula in 900-something.

It is renowned as one of the prettiest villages in Portugal - so much so, that in 1282, King Dinis gave it to his wife Isabel as a wedding present and for the next 600 years, it was passed on to every queen as a wedding present, giving the town the name of Casa das Rainhas. The impressive fortress was built in the 15th century and became a royal palace in the 16th century

It is apparently one of the tourist spots in Portugal - big car parks and coach parking attest to this fact - so I imaging it is is pretty horrible in season but in the dying sun of a quiet Thursday afternoon in mid January it was jolly nice - and definitely worth waiting for a dry day!

There isn't much to Obidos, wiggly cobbled streets where every second building is a bar, a hotel or some sort of artisanal tat shop but it is good for a couple of hours gentle meander and you can walk nearly all the way round the 3/5 mile of wall top which is nice.

As well as tat, it seems that the local "thing" is cherry liqueur called Ginja which is drunk from dark chocolate cups  and is a deliciously thick, syrupy, deep red treat made from just morello cherries (still in the bottle), sugar, water and "agricultural alcohol" whatever that is - probably don't want to know!

Of course we had to try some - would be rude not to - and even ruder to then leave the shop without buying a bottle so our tipple cupboard is expanding quite respectably :)

Having ticked Obidos off the list and moving on, we pointed ourselves south once more in the general direction of Sintra, the next pretty hill top town on our list.  Arriving fairly late and in the dark, we followed beach signs, not town signs, and ended up winding our way a long way down before fetching up at Praia Grande which is just that, a big(ish) beach and a deserted carpark right on the beach - this is the life!  Unfortunately the next morning it was raining, so not quite beach paradise when we decided to continue west to Cabo de Roca - the westernmost point of Portugal and also mainland europe - the ultimate of cardinal points for an affectionado of cardinal points such as myself!

Unlike the westernmost point of Spain, it was actually marked from the roads, and unlike the westernmost point of France, there was actually a proper marker there - doing well.  It has also resisted the commercial potential of it location so unlike Lands end there is fortunately no massive shopping/amusement park - doing even better!

Although you can, if you wish, spend €10 on a certificate to say you went...  and it was very pretty although unfortunately it was also fiercely windy to the point where we could nearly not stand up so in the commemorative pictures, we both look a bit "special"... :) 

Jules fortunately did a much better job of looking cool as the westernmost campervan in mainland europe!

So, onwards and eastwards to Sintra, another renownedly pretty town and one which was described by Byron as both "this glorious Eden" and "perhaps the most delightful in Europe".  Again, it is one of these places you really need to go out of season as, being only an hour from Lisbon and covered by the Lisbon card discounts, and included on all the "things you should do whilst in Lisbon" lists, it is a full on tourist spot.

It is quite lovely, all windy cobbled streets etc etc, but it was unfortunately wet, wet, wet - which somewhat took the edge off.  The question to the touirst office about what they suggested one did if one only had an afternoon in Sintra elicited a response which included all the most expensive tourist attractions - naturally - and we decided we didn't really fancy the three palaces mentioned - one of which was described as a symphonic poem of landscape and architecture or some such thing - but we are a bit cheap and have been inside lots of impressive buildings recently.

Having found Jules  free roadside stopping point not far from the tourist office - no mean feat in payparking city - we opted to stay on foot so, rain notwithstanding and fortified by a coffee and a sticky bun, we set of to climb the hill to the Moorish castle which you can see, balanced on the hill above the town.

It is a good climb, bit of road, bit of rocky, twisty woodland path and there would have been lots of fabulous views if only we could see them through the clouds - unfortunately though, we saw rather too much of the inside of the umbrella instead :(

still we were nice and warm when we got to the top and found that somehow we had also bypassed both ticket offices.  There was a cold, lonely man sat in a cagool in a hut at the entrance to the castle who said that he could sell us a ticket buy really, it was wet and foggy and you couldn't see the view or anything really so it wasn't honestly worth our €5 (each), and we would really be better off going to the next palace further up the hill (the really expensive one!) where at least there were walls and a roof.

We regretfully agreed that it was cold and wet and that there definintely wouldn't be €10 worth of views so would it be ok if, having walked all this way in the rain, we could just pop in and have a quick look, just for a minute - yes I know, I am a cheeky git as Will said! - but to my immense surprise, he agreed

so we got a very quick peak over the castle walls - where indeed, there was no view to be had due to the rain but it does look like in slightly less wet weather, it would be a fabulous castle! - before heading on again towards the other palace.  A more-ish castle it may have been - but we had just had enough (sorry, couldn't resist!)

On the way, we met an English speaking couple from Canada (although he was originally from Derby) so we stopped and chatted to them for a while until their bus arrived and found out that they were over from Canada for 2 weeks to try and buy a house as they wanted to escape the rat race (on the island where they live halfway between Victoria and Vancouver - not sure how much rat race there really is there...) so were spending a coupld of days in Lisbon and surrounding before heading north to Tomar for viewings - we don't know why Portugal and two weeks doesn't sound very long in which to choose a new house out of every possible town in a new country but there we go - good luck to them!

We walked round the corner to the Palace - beating the bus which I think many people had spent 20 mins waiting for because other people said it was too far to walk to the palace... - where it was indeed expensive as you had to pay to get into the garden and then again to get into the palace.  We decided the tourist euro is stretched enough this week what with campsite living and cherry liqueur, and we didn't really fancy it any way, so we persuaded them to let us thouggh the gates to the coffee shop without buying a ticket - I think they felt sorry for us, drowned rat not really being this season's look of choice -

we had our coffee in their cafe marquee and, having got that far, probably could have sneaked a look round the gardens without buying a ticket but we decided that it was just too wet, so walked ourselves back down the woodland footpath and into the first bar we found - Byrons bar - for a nice late afternoon warming wine and a gentle steam.

This evening, we took ourselves into the main square, in search of wine and random strangers to chat to and found two irish lads and an american girl in a bar and a pleasant couple of hours was passed talking travel and classic cars - they have been to the Algarve, done a road trip up highway 1 from San Diego to San Francisco which we have done but they did it in a RV so they understand the attraction of campervan life and one of them has a classic mgb - lots in common!  They left earlyish as they were heading to Porto that night - given it has taken us 10 days to do that journey, I forget it isn't actually that far! - and not fancing any of the restaurants, we are back in the van for delicious emergency pasta (it is going out of date again!).  If the weather is better tomorrow we might try the castle again, if not all roads lead to Lisbon!

1 comment:

  1. That is a wonderful place. That's a nice story. I really have to save more money from now on because this will be my next stop. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information with us.