Posts tagged culture

Lunch in Lagos

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Apparently Portuguese dogs walk backwards, do their business, then leap into the air !

Lagos warranted a hot, uphill walk during our short stay in Luz. We arrived on the outskirts of town feeling weary and in need of sustenance. Luckily there was a Portuguese equivalent of a builders cafe so we stopped for a very hearty 3 course lunch. David got an amazing meal comprising of a bowl of soup, a pork chop, a sausage, a gamon strip, two ribs, salad, chips, rice, desert, a glass of wine and a coffee, all for just €8 ! It was certainly the right lunch if you are laying bricks but not if you are sightseeing, and after an energizing espresso we managed a rather ungraceful waddle into town. Lagos’ museum’s main attraction is an ornately carved church. Odie interrupted our religious reverie by ensuring his barking echoed in the cavernous room and he was moved to a nearby tree in disgrace. The town is touristy but beautiful. We skipped a boat trip to the coves as we did that on a trip with my Dad a couple of years ago.

El Rocio

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Being back on the road again was a bit of a shock to the system. We drove to Seville in the hope of spending a couple of days exploring this city’s incredible architecture. However our hopes of staying over were thwarted by the blustery weather and the local annual marathon. We had to make do with a drive-by-viewing of the fine buildings, but we hope to come back to the beautiful town after our travels in Portugal.

We hustled on to El Rocio, a genuine spaghetti Western town. The streets are sand covered, as wide as those in Bulawayo (for non-Zimbos that means very wide), and each house has a tethering post outside to cater for the horse population. The horsey way of life even extends to the bars where you are able to enjoy a drink from atop your horse at extra high tables.

The town was almost deserted when we visited but apparently is a famous pilgrimage site with over a million visitors over one weekend each year after Easter. The main draw is to see a statue of Mary that moves of its own accord and party like there is no tomorrow. The church is ornate with a very glittery altar.

Nearby is the Donana National Park, Europe’s biggest wetland (Dad was thinking of you especially), and it provides a winter home to a vast bird population. The enterprising grey herons have decided to use the highest structure in the park to nest in, never mind that they are electricity pylons instead of trees! Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the Iberian lynx, one of the animals we were keen to see on our European travels, I guess it was a bit ambitious to try and see it in one day!

Tiles on one of the El Rocio monuments

Spanglish mates

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We were feeling rather weary after our overly exuberant new year celebrations in Benalmadena and after a night of recuperation we drove southwards in search of sunnier climes. We decided to return to one of our favourite Spanish campsites, near to the Cabo de Trafalgar (where Nelson fought the Spaniards).

The area is famous in Spain for its pine trees. They were planted by Franco to stop the endless march of sand inland. The trees still produce pine kernels and in January provide a home to an apparently very poisonous caterpillar. We were told by other campers that said caterpillar was both attractive and fatal to dogs. Luckily we only saw a couple of dead specimens and Odie was not at all interested in them, so they can’t be such a delicious doggie delicacy.

There are some fantastic cycling routes which thread though the natural pine park. We were looking forward to using our bikes to discover more of the area. Unfortunately our ambitious plans were rudely interrupted by some enterprising bicycle thieves who nicked our bikes in the middle of the night. They kindly left our bike cover, which means we don’t have to replace it for a third time! After discovering our loss, I had to make a trip to Barbate police station to report it and during this tedious exercise found out that the campsite had been targeted the previous month and that eight other bikes had been nicked in one night not long before we arrived! Pity no one had mentioned this fact when we turned up or we would have locked them to our van instead of to a tree!

We did not let our loss detract from our stay in the lush Costa de Luz, there were plenty of walks to the beach, lighthouse and along the surrounding hills. We were blessed with sunshine for most of the month and this meant David could work outside, although he had to defend his laptop from the sunshine and his legs from mosquitoes!

We squeezed in a visit to Cadiz, Europe’s oldest city, with narrow streets, exotic plants and hardly any parking spaces. We replaced our bikes with some cheap mountain bikes from Decathalon, and David purchased a mound of new clothes to replace his crusty look with a smart sporty style.

The campsite was a very sociable place, which was a major draw for us to stay for a month. We participated in 2 quiz nights (one sober; one with a very random combination of drinks) and played bingo for the very first time (besht played when tipshy!)

We met Padget, a bearded collie, and his owners, Bill and Jane, who are on a traveling adventure like us. It was fantastic to have some mates about again. We went for long lunches, played some hectic tennis and table tennis, went for long walks and drank quite a few beers together. If you want to check out their blog go to: http://www.getjealous.com/Billandjayne

We also met another couple, Paul and Tracey, and all 6 of us played an interesting match of TT which involved running around the table and trying to hit one ball each before stepping out of play. It made me feel rather dizzy and David was complaining of stiff obliques the next day.  This was soon followed by a boozy curry night before we hit the road once again! Months of social deprivation were made up in just a few weeks. Keep in touch guys!

tower

Thisa isa Pisa

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We had decided to put Italy behind us as quickly as possible and, with this in mind, set our minds to driving through the night back into France. On route however I spotted signs for Pisa and, having read stories and looked at pictures of the leaning tower as a child, couldn’t resist a diversion into the famous town to take in the sights.

Having spent all day on the lurking in the back of the van Odie was dying for a walk so we decided to take him around the block. It turned out that our motorhome stop was practically in view of the leaning tower. A glimpse of the rooftop stirred in me such desire to see the famous monument that I rushed back to the van, fetched my camera and tripod, and dragged Chris and Odie at a fast pace into the walls of the old town.

Although I’d seen drawings and photographs of the tower in books, the actual building took me quite by surprise. It is incredible – beautiful and delicate in a way that no picture can possibly capture. I could have spent hours photographing it from different angles but, with a cold wind biting like an annoying insect, and a shivering and complaining wife, I had to make do with just a few quick snaps.

The next morning we decided to visit the same sights in the light of day. What had been a tranquil and moving view by night was quite a different experience in the sun. Hoards of tourists arrived by the busload, and within a couple of hours we were elbowing and cursing our way through noisy crowds. As always though, the masses were only interested in the main attractions. A short walk took us way from the throngs of happy-snappers into the heart of the town where many beautiful sights could be seen without hundreds of people posing in front of them.

Pisa’s tower is famous for leaning, but many other attractions of less repute follow suite. Walking along the river you can see buildings from houses to banks tipping over, as their foundations slowly sink into soft soil below them. You could really call it the leaning town of Pisa.

We’ve come to accept the incredibly commercial aspect of any tourist site in Italy (little wonder as it’s the fifth most visited country in the world) and were unsurprised to find stalls selling various spirits in leaning bottles and leaning tower shaped pasta. As you can see from the photo though leaning towers don’t always have to be buildings …  😀

Pompeii

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Pompeii!  A city frozen in time.  We were staying just across the road at Camping Pompeii. Although the site is convenient it is not very quiet due to all the tourist hubbub.  If you are not keen on staying in the city, the campsite does provide parking for the day too.  Entry to the archeological site is €11. Audio guides are available from the main entrance but these are not necessary if you get a map and brief guide in English.  We spent two and a half hours there but felt a bit rushed as we left it late in the day (hoping the crowds had thinned) to visit. I’d recommend at least 3 or 4 hours for a decent visit.  Make sure you take water and sunscreen if it is hot.  There are some lovely shady spots great for picnics if you have time.  Dogs are permitted at no charge.

We have by now seen quite a few Roman sights, and at first I wasn’t that impressed by Pompeii but after half an hour I realised just how huge and interesting it is.  The scale is unmatched by any other excavation. It is a good walk to see all the sights and you will need sturdy walking shoes as many of the roads are uneven.  There are deep grooves in the roads from the wheels of the carts which used to trundle across this city.  The amphitheatre is huge – it used to hold an impressive 20,000 people and was used for gladiatorial matches.  They used one gate for releasing them into the arena and the other to take the injured out.  There are signs on the floor of metal rungs, perhaps to loop lions or other beasts onto.

A haunting sight was the mummified remains of the victims trapped by the pyroclastic wave of ash.  Most of the forms are huddled up in a foetus position.  Some of their faces show expressions of fear and pain.  The garden of fugitives has a few all huddled together and includes children and babies.  What they experienced must have been absolutely horrifying.

You can learn a lot about how the people lived in those times as so much of the town was well preserved by the volcanic ash. There are eating houses, with their ceramic food receptacles built into the marble table tops.  The Romans used to eat lunch away from home and these ‘restaurants’ had a couple of different rooms to eat from.  One had chaise longues and they used to eat their lunch lying down in the style of the Greeks.  There is also a house which was built for use as a brothel, unusual in those days.  The baths with their marble basins and piped water are dark but opulent.  The forum is huge, a massive space which accommodated thousands of people.  There are also numerous temples dedicated to the various Roman gods which are frequented by the numerous stray dogs that live in the ruins.

Paestum

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We have been sampling the delights of Campania. One of its most famous foods is buffalo mozzarella.  A tricolori salad made with this cheese is to die for.  We stayed on a buffalo farm, nestled amongst olive trees with only the buffalos for neighbours.  The farm was around the corner from Paestum, a famous ruin which started off as an Ancient Greek settlement in the 6th century BC and later updated by the Romans.  It is a wonderful integration of these two cultures and highlights the similarities between them. It’s amazing to think that these buildings are now nearly 2400 years old, and still in such remarkable condition. It was discovered in the 18th century by road builders who, after making their monumental find, continued building the road which runs through the middle of the site!

Trulli Magnificent

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A view of the trulli rooftops

After a welcome break in our nomadic lifestyle we uprooted once again and pottered down the Adriatic coast to Alberobello, Puglia. This town is famous for trulli – the round, dry walled, white washed houses that dot the landscape. Some say that they were built as an early form of tax evasion. Being made without mortar they could be dismantled every time a royal tax inspection was carried out.

We stopped in a lovely olive plantation, now an area di sosta (camperstop), in the heart of Alberobello. Little did we know that we were adjacent to the Trulli neighbourhood. In our search for groceries, we bypassed this area and looped all round the town only seeing a few Trulli as we marched ever onwards. However, we weren’t disappointed as the town is beautiful in its own right and we were lucky enough to be about during the Italian passegiata, or evening stroll. The next morning we stumbled over the Trulli neighbourhood. There are two main Trulli areas, one full of shops selling trulli tacky touritst tat, and another where people still live in these hobbity homes.


Little trulli houses converted into shops

A short hop took us to Locorotondo, a hilltop town in Puglia with a beautiful historical centre. The old town has narrow lanes that all lead to the church. Most buildings are cream or white and this colour contrasts beautifully with the red geranium-filled window boxes. After a rejuvenating gelati we continued on to Lecce, right in the heel of the Italian boot.

Saepinum

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Saepinum, a unique and deserted Roman settlement, greeted us after a short drive on some very bumpy roads in the Molise region of Italy. This Roman town was an important gateway for goods and travellers within the Roman republic. Part of the amphitheater had been used as a foundation for a number of medieval cottages. The archeologists excavating the site decided to leave these standing and they give an interesting insight into how buildings expand organically upwards over time. There is a large square with a recreated entrance gate and original carved fountains and pillars.

What makes Saepinum unique is that it is not very well known. We were virtually the only visitors to the site, and even had to shake the parking attendant to wake him from a snoring reverie.  The ruins gives you a chance to recreate the Roman town in your imagination without having to fight your way through hordes of other tourists. The site is so unvisited that I actually had difficulty locating it. The closest town is Altilia (you can park here), close to Campobasso.

Living in a motorhome is somewhat claustrophobic, but discovering just how small the houses were back then made us feel extremely grateful for the space and amenities we are so fortunate to have. Never have so many trees been chopped down to warm so few dwellings. On the other hand thick stone walls are quite soundproof, making domestic altercations and unwanted TV channels very much unheard.

We made a quick diversion on to Lucera; a supposedly interesting town in Puglia. We were keen to see the massive castle with its endless towers. Unfortunately  the castle office is clearly not interested in having visitors. Locked gates barred our entrance and, much to our dismay, the informative sign displaying the opening hours had been desecrated with a black permanent marker. We had a short walk around the perimeter and then went on our merry way.

Death by Olive

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A seahorse fountain in the square

We are always interested in trying new foods and Ascoli Piceno had something unique on offer – olives stuffed with veal and then deep fried. A cardiologist’s worst nightmare but a delight for tourists’ tummies! This town in the Le Marche region of Italy has plenty of interesting sights, beautiful squares and pretty architecture. Its tourist appeal is readily evident with the numerous American and English voices that can be heard echoing off the Roman monuments.

A quick descent out of the mountainous region of Monti Sibillini National Park lead us to the Adriatic sea. Beautiful blue skies and abundant sunshine, combined with a powder blue sea should result in hordes of sun worshippers … or this is what we thought. The only sight that met us on the beach in Porto d’Ascoli were endless rows of sun loungers and parasols. It looked like a holiday ghost town. If only the English knew about this September paradise. I’m sure many would love a cheap holiday in the Italian ‘off’ season.  We eventually located a wild camping spot right next to the sea, and were rewarded with a pretty sunrise the following morning.

The rising sun looked like a nuclear bomb

Fantasy Chocolates and Ceramics

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Perugia, a hill top town in Umbria, Italy was our destination for the day. Much to my dismay I was unable to organise a tour of the local chocolate factory. Such factories should be open 24 hours per day by law! I had to console myself with a delicious organic lunch of freshly made pasta and wild boar sauce. We made an effort to work off our indulgent lunch by marching up and down the many Perugian staircases, some of which ultimately lead to nowhere. The town has many pretty sights and plenty of photographic opportunities.

After our feet could take no more traipsing around we made a quick detour to Deruta, also in Umbria. This little town is famous for its handmade ceramics. The main street is riddled with shops selling their wares. Many allow you to observe the artists as they create  their beautiful ceramics, but photography is strictly forbidden so the only shots Dave came away with was of tiles laid into the pavement.

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