What did we ever do before we had the Internet? Finding a motorhome dealer with a good reputation in a foreign land is so much easier with Mr Google at your disposal. Searching for the answer to our wastewater problem, we chose Campilusa near Coimbra because of its proximity to our route and the fact that several Brits had reviewed it as a place where they could speak English and gave good service. They weren’t wrong.
We had spent the night before at Coimbra motorhome parking on the banks of the River Mondego. Parking here is free and in a pleasant green park. It is a place that is popular with long-term motorhomers and van parking is mixed with car parking for the many sporting opportunities on the riverside. Arriving late on a Sunday afternoon we expected it to be quiet but it had been a very warm afternoon and the place was hooching with families, students, surfer types in ancient vans and lots and lots of dogs. It had a happy atmosphere so we found a slightly cramped spot and waited for the crowds to go home before moving to a better one.
The most important consideration was finding a place where we could easily drive off in the morning and head for Campilusa where we hoped to get our leak fixed once and for all. We’ve come to terms with the fact that springing the occasional leak and bits failing is all part of the fun of long-term motorhoming. One thing is for certain, this lifestyle changes your priorities. Getting things fixed brings on feelings of near euphoria, as does finding a well-designed place to empty the chemical loo, getting a full tank of fresh clean water and meeting a friendly English speaker … oh and turning a corner to see the distinctive yellow sign of Lidl. That is in a class of its own, bringing on shouts of delight.
So we headed out into the Monday morning traffic to find Campilusa. We realised straight away that we should have waited an hour. Nothing happens quickly, first thing in the morning at a motorhome dealers and the traffic was heavy. Pulling up outside we got Google translate ready on the phone to explain what the problem was. We didn’t need it. The person who listened to our tale of woe asked us to wait a few minutes – that’s Portuguese minutes so multiply it up accordingly – and then everything swung into action. A man came out to look at the problem, decided what part we needed and took us back inside. Pleasant lady who had served us on arrival explained that the workshop was 5km away and so someone would escort us there and then a mechanic would tell us whether it could be fixed. A kindly man of advancing years came out and explained that he would drive in front of us and we were immediately thankful that he had. We were led up tiny roads, through minute villages and up into the hills until we began to believe he had lost his way and then, miraculously, we were there. José the mechanic got to work and our kindly guide began to chat with us. We asked if he had a motorhome, just to make conversation, and he laughed. It turned out he was the owner of the whole outfit. “I own lots of them,” he replied, “so if I want one I just take one. These days though, I would rather take a plane and stay in a hotel.” Vasco was the most charming host, showing us his extensive workshops and talking knowledgeably about Scotland and his feeling that it is a very different country and should be independent. His English was not fluent but he was able to communicate amazingly well, especially given that he confided in us that he is 82 years old and still working part-time. This whole experience was beginning to feel surreal. We couldn’t imagine getting service like this in a British company. Once José had worked his magic, taking off all the pipes and putting them back together with a new valve and tap in the workshop, we were escorted back to the shop where we paid the very reasonable bill and were bid a warm farewell by all the staff. We left feeling uplifted – and relieved too. We were watertight!
Back at the motorhome parking we found a convenient spot, got out our folding chairs and sat by the river reading our books and watching a team of canoe polo players in training. This was November 21st and it was 25c. These hot afternoons in November are not guaranteed so we make the most of them. Portugal is in desperate need of rain and Vasco had told us that morning that it was on its way. He had smiled and said “I know you’ve come from Scotland and have seen enough rain but we need it. Sorry.”
We spent three nights at the free motorhome parking in Coimbra, taking the opportunity to explore the beautiful town, climb the steep streets, buy some fresh fruit in the market and eat roasted chestnuts from a street seller. We loved it there and can thoroughly recommend it. The dogs gave it four paws of approval as they could run about along the riverside off their leads.
A Goldilocks Day
Some days are definitely of the Goldilocks variety when nothing you try is quite right. We made up our minds that our next stop would be to visit Fatima, place of pilgrimage, followed by Batalha, famous for its monastery. Once we arrived at Fatima we realised straight away that we wouldn’t be staying overnight. The six motorhome parking spots were taken and none of the others was long enough for our van. We had also mistakenly arrived with no water on board, not realising that there were no services there. Fatima attracts many thousands of faithful pilgrims each year and we were astonished by the sheer size of the place and the beauty of some of the modern artwork and sculptures. This was a brief visit as we had to be sure to find a place to sleep that night.
The wind was getting up and the temperature was dropping, forecasts of heavy rain were rumoured and we felt the need to find a nice sheltered spot so we set off for Batalha where part two of the Goldilocks Saga occurred. The motorhome parking here is close to the monastery in the middle of a pretty little town. Free services and individual parking spaces are provided but we discovered, after filling up with water, that once again we were too long for the provided parking spots. It was very busy in the town and we tried hard to find an alternative place but eventually had to accept that we needed to move on again. By now it was getting dark and we hastily chose the nearest motorhome parking, which was back in the direction of Fatima and, as we discovered very quickly, involved a drive up into the mountains around numerous hairpin bends and steep inclines. Shirley managed the whole trip as a passenger without her usual response of squeaking like Beaker in the Muppets. She may have been catatonic with fright – I don’t know. I was too busy gripping the steering wheel and praying. Sao Mamede is a lovely little town, out in the sticks, about 5 km from Fatima. Here we found a proper service point, ample parking space and a lot of peace and quiet. Thank you, Sao Mamede.
Nazaré, Peniche and another kind of leak
Waking the next morning we got online to choose our next stop. Shirley loves to be near the sea and, as we haven’t had a seaside stop so far on this trip, we decided to head west in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean. We chose Peniche as our stop for the weekend, planning some walking, sightseeing and doing the tourist thing. In the end it didn’t turn out that way … more on that shortly. We stopped en route at Nazaré, a seaside town about 30 miles north of Peniche. On a driving day we usually wait until our first stop before we have breakfast and coffee and, if possible, we try to find an attractive spot to make the journey more interesting. Nazaré was the ideal spot, not too far off our route, yet a beautiful seaside town with a great beach. We found the motorhome parking, which was little more than a sandy patch of waste ground, within an easy walk of the beach and pulled into the last remaining parking space. The dogs can smell a beach within about half a mile so they were lined up by the door and ready for action in double quick time. No chance of having coffee before going out for a walk here. Putting on their leads we saw through the front windows a strange and rather severe looking couple walking up and down the parked vehicles in the style of camp commandants. We immediately thought that there must be a charge for parking here and waited for them to approach us but they walked on by, glancing surreptitiously into the van in the way we all do when we want to see what the layout of someone else’s van is like without actually looking too nosy. Off we went to the beach, where the dogs went nuts with delight and we stood with a number of other people watching the crashing Atlantic rollers, hypnotised by the sheer power and relentless energy of the ocean. Eventually, the mutts returned to our sides, looking up at us with that happy dog look of lolling tongue and floppy ears, ready for the next adventure so we returned to the van, all four of us ready for breakfast.
Back at the van, we noted that the self-appointed camp guards were still on duty, marching up and down the line of vans with arms folded and a serious expression on their faces. Their military bearing was rather spoiled by the woman’s frilly pinny and slippers but her expression would have frightened the most hardened criminal. We worked out that they were resident in a French motorhome in pole position at the bottom of the parking area and pondered on the nature of some people’s travelling lives. Why drive hundreds of miles south to spend your time walking up and down a car park glowering at people? Strange.
Next stop was Peniche and we chose to stay in ASA Peniche Motorhome Parking, a commercial parking area right in the town. If you look at the link do not be fooled by the picture of the ocean. The parking is behind high walls in a secure compound. Staff are friendly and helpful, parking is level, services are clean and plentiful and it is an easy walk to most places of interest. What it is not is beautiful.
As it happened this turned out to be no problem at all, as the storm and rain that had been promised hit us with full force just as we drove in. We got drenched at the service point and more drenched plugging in the electric but once settled we were thankful for the high walls that protected us from the ferocious pounding of the wind blowing in from the ocean. For twenty-four hours we hid from the weather, going out only to take the dogs for toilet breaks and rushing back into the warm. Peniche is an interesting place. A mixture of tourist town and working fishing port, it has history, culture, good restaurants and wonderful surfing beaches. When the storm finally broke we went out for a walk with the dogs, thinking we could circle the peninsula. The man at reception had mentioned 3km. I think we misheard him and ended up walking miles, getting hopelessly lost and having to go into tourist information to find our way home.
That evening we went out for a lovely meal in one of the fresh fish restaurants and strolled back to the van feeling full of the joys, only to be met by an unpleasant sight on opening the van door. One of the dogs had been horribly sick and as soon as we opened the door they both shot out into the night, and the mercifully fully enclosed parking area, on the hunt for a place to …. you don’t need to know the rest.
We spent the rest of our stay in Peniche taking it in turns to walk the dogs to the nearest patch of rough ground as the ill effects of something they had eaten worked its way through their systems. I won’t go into too much detail but we look like new parents, dark smudges under our eyes, hair stood on end and wearing a cross between PJs and jogging bottoms, having taken it in turns to get up several times each night in response to the pitiful wails of two dogs with the runs. I am reminded of the wonderful and much missed Victoria Wood who described a new mother turning up at the baby clinic with a piece of toast stuck to her hair. Someone remind me why it was a good idea to be dog owners?