Better late than never, and better safe than sorry. Our van has been repaired and we nervously made our way south praying to all the gods that may be that Sam was now in good shape. On our last night in A Coruna, Lago, the mechanic who has been trying to get the van fixed, stayed at work until 1am so we could get on the road. We ate a dinner of pizza together with his wife Maria, daughters Marta and Andrea, Lago and his assistant Pedro, sat in his tiny office. This wonderful family have been so generous to us and we hope we can repay them someday.
We stayed overnight in a motorway service area on the road south to Vigo and headed towards the border early the next day. In Santiago we'd seen some beautiful ceramics from Salvaterra right on the border between Spain and Portugal, so we spent an hour tracking down the family who make them. An elderly lady let us in to a house tucked away in a tiny village. Her husband had started the business and had sadly passed away just two weeks before. She was 86 years old and showed us around the workshop full of pride. Much to Carlos' consternation I bought a box full (space is tight in our van!) but they were too beautiful to pass up on.
From Salvaterra we headed across the border, letting out a cheer as we passed the Portugal sign. It's hard to describe the sense of relief at being on the road again. We headed for Ponte de Lima, a pretty village famous for its mediaeval bridge. As the sun dipped below the horizon we watched people fishing off the bridge and wandered around the village's cobbled streets and plazas. In the centre speakers played classical music for all the enjoy. How very civilised are the Portuguese!
We slept that night in Darque, on the Atlantic coast and in the morning Carlos got busy fixing our indicators, which had decided not to work somewhere along the way. He's pretty handy with a soldering iron.
We had heard good things about Porto and it did not disappoint. We're so behind schedule that we could only stay for the day, we made the most of it by following our guidebook's walking tour; starting at the Torre de Clerigos with its stunning views over the old town we wandered through the city and down to the river.
The Igreja de Sao Francisco was mind-blowing, not only for the incredibly creepy crypt filled with thousands of jumbled bones and effigies of skulls, but also for the 100 kilograms of gold leaf in the over-the-top Baroque church interior and the macabre sculptures within. It wasn't subtle but it was certainly impressive!
By the Douro river we wandered along the quay in the bright December sunshine, past market stalls, under the Dom Luis bridge and stumbled across a tiny workshop whose owner makes beautiful model boats.
Porto is indeed a beautiful city, and it was such a shame we couldn't stay longer.
Before we left we stocked up on tinned seafood, amazing cheese from the Azores, bread and artisan beer at the wonderful Mercearia das Flores.
Our first days in Portugal reminded us how much we love this country! Amazing food, warm open people, rich in history and culture, creative and inspiring - it's a very special place. And the further south we travel the brighter the sun shines and the further away winter feels.