Crossing the border...

Hallelujah! We finally made it.

Hallelujah! We finally made it.

  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.

With family Añon outside their ceramics workshop

With family Añon outside their ceramics workshop

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  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!

The famous bridge at Ponte de Lima

The famous bridge at Ponte de Lima

Stocking up on supplies

Stocking up on supplies

The river Lima

The river Lima

A lone fisherman stays on as the sun sets over the river Lima

A lone fisherman stays on as the sun sets over the river Lima

  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.

Carlos does a spot of morning wiring

Carlos does a spot of morning wiring

  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.

Public fountain in Porto

Public fountain in Porto

Bird market in Porto

Bird market in Porto

Goldfish for sale, Porto

Goldfish for sale, Porto

Bird market, Porto

Bird market, Porto

Views from the Torre de Clerigos

Views from the Torre de Clerigos

Views from the Torre de Clerigos

Views from the Torre de Clerigos

Views from the Torre de Clerigos

Views from the Torre de Clerigos

Azulejos in Sao Bento station

Azulejos in Sao Bento station

Sao Bento station

Sao Bento station

  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!

Igreja de Sao Francisco

Igreja de Sao Francisco

Bones in the crypt

Bones in the crypt

Gold, gold, gold, and more gold.

Gold, gold, gold, and more gold.

Ouch!

Ouch!

A detail of the intricate Baroque decoration

A detail of the intricate Baroque decoration

The virgin Mary had a particularly ornate chapel

The virgin Mary had a particularly ornate chapel

  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. 

Someone had left their chicken tied to a string by the river

Someone had left their chicken tied to a string by the river

The Eiffel-tower-inspired Dom Luis bridge

The Eiffel-tower-inspired Dom Luis bridge

A very patient man

A very patient man

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  Porto is indeed a beautiful city, and it was such a shame we couldn't stay longer. 

A traditional shopfront in the old town

A traditional shopfront in the old town

Porto's famous graffiti is everywhere

Porto's famous graffiti is everywhere

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A tiled building facade

A tiled building facade

Before we left we stocked up on tinned seafood, amazing cheese from the Azores, bread and artisan beer at the wonderful Mercearia das Flores. 

Mercearia das Flores, Porto

Mercearia das Flores, Porto

  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.