Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

200409 1 Portugal Dominican Republic

WEDNESDAY 1 SEPTEMBER 2004 – Cross into SPAIN then take the motorway to avoid San Sebastian Euro 1.45 (£1).  Hit the coast at Zarautz but can’t park anywhere nor drive near the beach.  Following the coast road leads us to Getaria with a lovely car park directly behind the beach.  Attendants soon arrive and tell us we cannot stay there in a motorhome but that we can drive around to the fishing port and pay Euro 3 (£2.10) to park and stay overnight.  Norm loves the spot as he can watch the boats coming in and unloading their catch.  They are huge tuna boats laden with big fish.  The weather is nice in the afternoon so we sit out reading whilst Bev & Norm explore the town.  To enjoy the view we have parked taking up 3 spaces as hardly anyone uses the car park.  Consequently we are surprised when early evening we are asked to turn around and take up just one spot.  We move into the corner, further away from the noise of the boat engine.  Get very little sleep.  Not only do we get noise from the port as they continue unloading, manoeuvring forklift trucks, and driving off in the big trucks but also a constant stream of cars arriving and leaving with fishermen.



THURSDAY 2 SEPTEMBER – A bit of a dull morning so again we take the motorway from Zumaya towards Bilbao, Euro 9.90 (£7) toll.  Can’t understand the Spanish system as this was with a ticket and yesterday was cash in advance.  The motorway is free around Bilbao and on to Santander.  Join the coast at San Vicente de la Barquera and find a sign prohibiting motorhomes from the port area.  This works in our favour as we back track to a beach just to the east and find a super spot on grass directly behind Playa Sable de Meron.  Bev & Norm go off for a walk whilst we catch up on some sleep.  They return and tell us they have checked into a nearby Motel for the night. 



FRIDAY 3 SEPTEMBER – Unfortunately we are once again in a lovely spot but without the weather to enjoy it as we wake to a dull misty morning.  Check out the coastal town of Llanes no doubt pleasant on a nice day.  Drive through towns with strange names such as “Poo” and “Bones”.  Stop at the cider capital of Villaviciosa to take a drink in “El Furacu” bar.  The barman produces a full bottle of cider, raises it high above his head, holds a glass down by his knees, and pours whilst looking straight ahead.  Not a gimmick but to aerate the flat cider.  Norms is then instructed to drink it slowly down in one but to leave the last bit in the glass.  This you throw out against a special area at the front of the bar from which it trickles into a drain.  The procedure is then repeated for the next person.  On our way back to the van I spot a bar advertising a 3 course menu plus wine and bread for Euro 5.40 (£3.70).  It takes us about 2 seconds to decide to partake.  As soon as we sit down we are served red wine and sparkling water.  Between the four of us we order 2 of each starter and main course.  A huge tureen arrives full of a pea and ham concoction and plenty for all of us so I assume my order was misunderstood.  Not so as another equally large dish arrives full of chickpeas, potatoes, and meat.  We plod through most of it and manage some of the bread.  Another bottle of wine arrives.  The main courses are fish and pork with chips.  Dessert is a choice of crème caramel, tart, or ice cream.  All very tasty, filling and excellent value especially as we have wine left over to take away with us.  Just east of Cudillero we find a good car park just above L’Aquilar beach and stop for a siesta to sleep off our over indulgence.  It’s a great spot with toilets and showers so we stop for the night.



SATURDAY 4 SEPTEMBER – Again we are doomed and wake to another dull and misty morning.  Norm does brave the weather to take a dip in the Ocean.  The local Police call round and take details of my driving licence and passport but say it is just a formality and there is no problem with us having parked there.  Travelling onwards we notice lots of square grain stores, are a feature of this region.  Unfortunately we cannot appreciate the views of the mountains nor down to the ocean.  We give up following the coast and head inland into bad fog with poor visibility.  Fortunately once we are over the mountains the weather perks up.  Lunch stop by a typical Spanish cemetery giving Norm a chance to sight see.  Notice that the grain stores in this area are rectangular and with a cross on the top look very much like a tomb.  We’re heading to Santiago de Compostela a famous pilgrimage site.  We’ve been on the trail since France but haven’t spotted any of the pilgrims who make the journey on foot.  They are recognised by a scallop shell hanging on the back of their rucksack.  Camping Las Cancelas has a lovely swimming pool and we are all glad to make use of it.  In the evening Bev & Norm set out on an exploratory walk but return a couple of hours later soaking wet having been caught in the storm.  Try to sleep through the rain, noise of bangers being set off until after 1am and then music in the distance.


Euro 3.70 (£2.60) person, Euro 7.40 (£5.20) van, Euro 3 (£2.10) electric


SUNDAY 5 SEPTEMBER – Bev & Norm stayed out in the tent last night but unfortunately it wasn’t well sited and they have woken to find a lake in the middle.  Sort out as much as we can and send the bedding to be washed and dried on the campsite.  Walk into the town and on the way in catch a procession of local musicians with many playing the bagpipes.  They link up with a brass band and we enjoy the music.  Back into the main tourist area we queue up to enter the cathedral by the “Puerta Santa” only open in Holy years.  The church is massive, impressive, and very busy.  Admire the huge alter but don’t bother to queue up with the pilgrims who go round the back to kiss the cloak of St James.  Likewise we are happy to look at but not queue at the “Portico de la Gloria” to touch the column of St James.  Wander round the rest of the city with some interesting streets and nice old buildings.  Arrive back at camp just before another heavy downpour.  Bev & Norm have got back just before us and we manage to get everything packed away before it gets any wetter.  Just west of Pontevedra we visit the village of Combarro.  Famous for the grain stores along the waterfront.  Park by the port and Bev & Norm soon find a Hotel where we can park up for the night.  Explore the waterfront where there is an area with lots of grain stores and restaurants down narrow alleyways.  Very picturesque and interesting. 



MONDAY 6 SEPTEMBER – Make our way onto the Peninsula de Morrazo with the first stop at Mogor to look at the prehistoric rock petroglyphs – to us they are just circles and lines carved into a bit of rock!  In Bueu we visit the local fish market with not a tourist in sight.  Purchase 4 huge tuna steaks at Euro 8 (£5.60) kilo and a kilo of mussels for Euro 2.50(£1.75).  Turn off the main road at the sign to Cabo de Udra and immediately on our right spot another sign to Tula beach, an official naturist beach.  The road is narrow and steep but we squeeze through and avoid the over hanging trees and other obstacles.  Many of the turns are at a right angle and one takes us about 10 goes with Norman guiding Steve at one side and me on the other.  The next bend proves impossible with high brick walls on all sides.  We then begin the slow and difficult process of backing Charlie out.  Luckily the previous bend has 3 roads and we manage to reverse into one enabling us then to drive out.  By this time most of the village are out to watch and Bev is having kittens.  Return to the road out to Cabo de Udra.  This is a much wider road and causes us no problems.  We emerge at the tip of the cape to find a big paved car park, picnic tables, BBQ’s, and a water tap.  Park up with a wonderful view towards the beach and out over the ocean.  Steve immediately hits the beer.  The mussels in white wine go down a treat for lunch and we settle in for the day.  The beach is of fine gravel and we enjoy an afternoon sunbathing.  It’s an interesting area, lots of locals arrive to go walking, and one man leaves his horses and foals to graze.  In the evening Norm collects wood for the BBQ and cooks up the steaks and they are delicious.  An evening stroll reveals many more beaches around the headland and plots of land with caravans or shacks on.  One is very elaborate, terraced with a table and chairs covered in tiles and a huge scallop shell pond. 




TUESDAY 7 SEPTEMBER – Do a few jobs in the morning making use of the water supply.  By 12 o’clock it is hot and sunny.  As yesterday it clouds over late afternoon and a storm rolls around but once again manages to avoid us. 



WEDNESDAY 8 SEPTEMBER – Follow the road around the peninsula noticing lots of mussel farms in the bay.  Cross the toll suspensions bridge to Vigo Euro 1.35 (95p) then set out in search of the LPG station listed in my book.  We are sent up near the airport and have difficulty seeing even the road let alone the gas station, as the fog is terrible.  Eventually after much back tracking we find it but they can’t fill our tank.  Cross the next river and into PORTUGAL and immediately find a place selling LPG and with a man there who lived in America for 13 years and speaks excellent English.  He tells us that tank gas is now widely available in Portugal.  Just down the coast Afife is shown as a nude beach.  It is a blue flag beach and well serviced so unlikely to be nude but we manage to find a spot to ourselves to soak up the afternoon sun.  Unfortunately signs in English indicate that overnight parking or camping is forbidden and there is a hefty fine.  The nearest main town is Viana Do Castelo and for Euro 1.50 (£1) we park on the waterfront and can stay overnight.  Head off to explore the town where we immediately notice the different style of houses and churches in Portugal with ceramic tiles used for exterior decoration.  The highlight of the town is the Dominican abbey with many magnificent altars, the Rosario one said to be the finest in Europe.  Spot a restaurant with a 2-course meal, drink, and bread on offer for Euro 4.20 (£2.95) so once again we order a selection and enjoy the local soup followed by fish and a veal rice dish. 



THURSDAY 9 SEPTEMBER – We’ve found out the town has a laundrette and a cheap Internet café Euro 1 (70p) hour so linger all morning to make full use.  Just down the coast at Esposende we stop for lunch and immediately see the same signs forbidding free camping.  Take a small coast road amongst the market gardens and find parking directly behind the beach at the football stadium on the outskirts of Agucadoura.  Spend a good few hours on the beach in the afternoon before the sea mist rolls in.  The stadium floodlights go on as the local team turns up to practice in the evening. 



FRIDAY 10 SEPTEMBER – Drive along the motorway to Oporto (Porto) then check out the adjoining coastal resorts of Matosinhos and Foz.  On the south bank of the Douro River at Vila Nova De Gaia Bev and Norm check into the Ibis motel Euro 50 (£35) room, with us settling onto the car park.  Catch the bus Euro 1.20 (£85p) into the city to do the sights.  Steve & Norm head off to the port museum whilst Bev & I go off on a mission.  We’ve always intended to do a special side trip with Bev & Norm for Steve’s 50th birthday and to coincide with our wedding anniversary which are both next week.  Tui is the European version of Thomson travel so we start at their office.  Niece Lauren is getting married in Malta next Friday so this is our first choice.  Unfortunately nothing is available but we are offered a late deal to Dominican Republic on Sunday on a 5* all-inclusive package.  They are now selling it for ½ price at Euro 595 (£416) plus Euro 55 (£38) airport tax and it goes from Lisbon.  The only problem is that we are in Oporto 300 km away and had planned to amble slowly down the coast.  End up telling Steve what we are planning and he is keen for us to go straight back and book.  Once that’s all sorted we set out to explore the town.  It’s very attractive town with lots of tall houses crammed into the narrow steep cobbled streets.  As the birthplace of port we visit the museum Solar do Vinho do Porto and sit on the terrace sipping our drinks.  Down on the water we take a 50 minute boat trip up and down the River Douro Euro 7.50 (£5) taking us under the many bridges and giving us fine views of the city on one side and the port wine caves on the other. 



SATURDAY 11 SEPTEMBER – Join the motorway to head south clocking up almost Euro 15 (£10) to cover 150km so again not cheap.  Arrive in Lisbon and find good parking near the Expo site on the banks of the river. 



SUNDAY 12 SEPTEMBER – Make the short drive to the airport and find that P3 has above ground parking and a space big enough to fit Charlie.  We are flying with a new Portuguese charter airline called Air Luxor and our flight leaves on time at 1445.  During the flight we are served one meal and one sandwich and watch “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Johnny English”.  After 7 hours we arrive in the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC at Punta Cana airport, local time 1735 (5 hours behind England).  The Portuguese all clap and cheer once we have made our landing.  Emerge from the plane into heat and humidity and a basic airport with thatched roof buildings.  With little thought for security we amble across the airfield and into the terminal building to part with US $10 (£7) entry fee.  The Soltours rep ushers onto an air-conditioned coach.  During the ½ hour drive to our resort we pass basic villages and spot one of the brightly painted local thatched roof buses.  During the journey we are issued with wristbands, a TV remote control and an envelope with our room entry cards and two further cards to be exchanged for beach towels.  On arrive at the Bahia Principe  (Spanish for Bay Prince) we are met by welcome dancers and given a cocktail to drink.  From the plan we can see that it is a very big resort so we are pleased to find they run a shuttle “Noddy train”.  The main road from the reception area down to the beach has restaurants and swimming pools which all look lovely.  Our room 7201 is in block 7, on the perimeter of the resort.  We’re on the second floor, have a view of the ocean, and out over the adjoining jungle.  The tour operator made a note that it was our wedding anniversary during the holiday and this means we get extras on arrival, a towel folded in a heart and scattered with red flowers, a platter of fruit, a bottle of rum and two T-shirts.  The room is large as is the bed.  By the balcony we have an area with a sofa, chairs and table and satellite TV.  In the bathroom there is an oval spa bath.  All very posh and new as the resort only opened in July.  Bev & Norm are in the room next door and once we have had a quick shower we set out together for our evening meal.  During our stay we can take 4 meals at the speciality restaurants but for tonight we are going to the main buffet.  There are many areas with food laid out, cold salads, soups, and hot food from many countries, fruit, dessert, and ice creams.  We take considerable time selecting what to eat or more to the point working out just how much we can fit in.  We’re pretty tired by the time we finish so settle for an early night.



MONDAY 13 SEPTEMBER – Our 29th wedding anniversary and we are both awake at 6am when the sun rises.  We brew delicious Dominican coffee in the machine provided then sit on the balcony eating from the fruit platter whilst taking in the view.  Go for a stroll along the beach and it’s just beautiful, like a picture postcard with the azure sea, white sand, and lots of palm trees.  The water is lovely and warm when we go for a paddle.  Just off shore is a shipwreck, which should be interesting to explore on the pedaloes.  Nearby shacks have been set up as a shopping village by the locals.  Head back for breakfast to be greeted by a waiter handing out champagne.  Again there is a huge choice of food; I go for freshly cooked waffles with chocolate sauce and cream whilst Steve has a traditional cooked breakfast.  That’s just for starters as we both then go back to sample lots of other things.  The welcome meeting is in Portuguese but Paulo a Soltours rep speaks reasonable English and does a private talk for the four of us.  He shows us what trips are available and explains the system with the restaurants and where we can get food and drinks at any time of night or day.  We then set out to explore starting with the “Pueblo” village, like a Disney theme park with pretty coloured shops selling local goods.  Down at the beach we trade our cards for towels and settle onto the sun loungers.  The sea is a bit churned up due to hurricane Ivan that recently flattened nearby Jamaica and is now hammering Cuba but luckily missed the Dominican Republic.  In one of the two beachside swimming pools we swim up to the bar and indulge ourselves by trying out a few of the cocktails.  The Bahamas Mama and Coco Loco are particularly good.  The staff are extremely friendly and many speak a bit of English and like to chat to us.  Most of the locals are a lighter colour and slighter build than we would have expected.  Stagger up to the buffet for lunch then return to the room to sleep it off.  Late afternoon we visit another pool again with a swim up bar and more cocktails to sample.  For our anniversary meal we dine at the French Gourmet restaurant with Bev & Norm.  You order a la carte and the food is lovely and service excellent.  By the time we leave the restaurant the live entertainment is starting so we sit through a bit of it but find it rather amateurish and a bit like the ending of “The Generation Game” with everyone struggling to keep in step!



TUESDAY 14 SEPTEMBER – Another early morning beach walk but this time south where we explore the next two resorts, predominated by Germans and not as nice as ours.  We’ve got mainly Spanish, Portuguese, and Canadians although recently a lot of Belgians were transferred from Jamaica.  We’ve now done a full survey on our resort and it has 4 swimming pools, a wedding gazebo, children’s club, 2 buffet restaurants, 6 speciality restaurants (Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean/fish, steak house, Japanese and gourmet), 4 bars plus pool bars, a piano bar, casino, disco and theatre so no shortage of entertainment.  Down at the beach the non-motorised water activities are free to use although for some they take a deposit or extra for insurance.  Throughout the day the activity programme includes tennis, Spanish lessons, beach volley and aerobics, beach and pool games, water polo, tropical dance lessons and more.  After stuffing ourselves at breakfast we return to make the most of the chance to sunbathe nude on our balcony.  Once the sun has moved round we head to the pool where I partake in the water aerobics.  This makes me feel better when we join Bev & Norm at the Mexican buffet for lunch where I again stuff myself.  After sunbathing by one of the pools we return to the room where Steve watches football and I attempt to straighten my frizzy hair – bit of a joke in this humid climate.  We’ve booked an evening meal at the fish restaurant but unfortunately Steve is not feeling too well and doesn’t really do it justice.



WEDNESDAY 15 SEPTEMBER – Steve’s not at all well and thinks it may be due to some of the seafood he ate yesterday lunchtime.  I go for the buffet breakfast and take him a yoghurt and banana back to the room.  He’s watching TV with report of a new tropical storm called Jeanne that may be heading our way.  I spend the morning by the pool relaxing then return to pick up Steve for lunch at the Italian restaurant.  Just as we are finishing eating it starts to rain and begins to get windy.  Spend the afternoon in the room.  Take a walk to the beach before heading out for our evening meal.  There’s a lot of activity with the sun loungers being collected together and tied down.  When we go in to dinner we are handed a notice in many languages and read that Tropical Storm “Jeanne” is forecast to hit the East coast of the Dominican Republic during the night.  We are instructed to remain in our rooms and keep all doors and windows shut until the storm passes.  Eat a quick meal then dutifully return to our room.  The rain gets heavier as the night progresses.




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