04 Oct 2,080 miles later… our road trip to Portugal
Welcome to our latest pet sit, a Portuguese farm house with a veranda framed by pink flowers. There are orange groves in the garden, a pool and never-ending sunshine. Each morning we stroll around the 30,000 square-metre grounds of our home for the week, followed by a friendly pack of dogs and pigs. How exactly did we end up in this slice of rural heaven? Let’s rewind 2,080 miles to the start of our road trip to Portugal.
Leg one: the UK to Amsterdam
Is there anything better than the start of a new trip, the promise of new places and experiences? After three months in the UK the weather was taking on an autumnal nip and the leaves were beginning to turn, with them our desire to flee to warmer climes. We packed the car with shorts and coats, boots and flip flops in anticipation of both summer weather in Portugal and a wintery stay in Prague, then set off for the white cliffs of Dover.
During the two-hour ferry crossing we sat up on the windy deck watching as we approached the shores of Dunkirk. After reaching France we drove into the sunset through Belgium to the Netherlands. It was dark when we finally arrived at our Airbnb in Weesp just outside of Amsterdam, a pretty town of cobbled streets and shuttered houses with a church. A windmill lay in the distance across a river lined with homes and boats.
With less than 48 hours to explore Amsterdam, a brand-new city for us, we had to really get our tourist on. Thick fog obscured our first views as we wandered from Amsterdam Central Station through the streets, dodging herds of morning bicycles and trams. Amongst the tourist shops selling novelty clogs and Dutch cheese, we began to uncover Amsterdam’s charm, the countless canals lined with house boats, bridges decorated with flowers and parked bicycles, worn stone streets and pancake shops, grand palaces and cathedrals.
There’s more to come in a separate post about our brief but packed trip to Amsterdam. However, highlights included a moving visit to the Anne Frank House, a boat trip along the canals, a free walking tour of the city and a catch up with our friend Loes, who we met whilst teaching in Vietnam and haven’t seen in over two years. By the way, did you know that between 10-15,000 bicycles are fished out of Amsterdam’s canals every year? Just one of the fascinating facts we learnt about the city during our visit.
Leg two: speeding through France
It’s been a few years since we set foot in France and because we both used to take family holidays there as kids, it never feels like an ‘adventurous’ destination for us. Driving the length of the country though made me realise what beautiful, varied scenery it has, plus just how damn big it is. Our first stop was in Lille and having left Amsterdam in the late afternoon, we arrived in darkness and had little time to do anything but shower and sleep ahead of a long drive the next day.
The eight-hour journey took us through fields spotted with wind turbines and tiny villages filled with white-washed houses and bakeries, down shady forest roads and along huge stretches of motorway. The trip was punctuated with supermarket stops for baguettes and hummus and we took turns to drive (with Andrew completing the lion’s share), whilst devouring podcasts and music playlists.
Pin Me For Later!
We arrived in Poitiers in time to see the sun setting in shades of pink and orange over the spires of the nearby abbey. What was left of the evening we spent chatting to two of the nicest Airbnb hosts we’ve stayed with, a young bicycle-loving couple with a cat who loves to open doors.
Leg three: a return to Spain
It’s hard to believe that it was just last year that we spent three months in Spain, attempting to set up a new life there and then dealing with the fallout when things fell apart. My youngest brother and his partner are currently walking the Camino de Santiago across Spain and I’ve been following their blistered but beautiful journey, marvelling at their Instagram snaps of yellow fields and golden sunsets.
It made me think that perhaps I’d feel differently about Spain this time, that I’d be able to see its beauty more clearly than I had during those tumultuous months there when I’d felt like I was drifting in a sea of self-doubt and uncertainty. Unfortunately, during our brief stop in Logroño, where we stayed in one of the most disgusting Airbnb’s we’ve ever encountered, I sadly discovered that I still have quite negative feelings about the country. It’s not Spain’s fault, I just can’t connect with the place and feel haunted by the mental difficulties I faced there.
Leg four: arriving in Portugal
Thankfully, I felt that shadow lift as we drove over the border to Portugal, where we were greeted by buttery sunshine. We drove straight to the university city of Coimbra and our digs for the night with Fatima, a smiling Portuguese woman who embraced us warmly and welcomed us with tea, cookies and fruit. With his Spanish language skills, Andrew found that he was able to understand much of what Fatima said to us in Portuguese, a good sign for the next six weeks we’ll spend here in the country.
We had just a few hours that evening to explore Coimbra, a fort-like town perched on a hillside overlooking a river. Steep cobbled streets wound upwards, dotted with tapas bars and shops selling huge meringues and pasteis de nata – Portuguese custard tarts. I can’t be certain, but I think we may have stumbled upon freshers’ week, as the streets were filled with students, some dressed in their long, black cloaks singing and laughing, playing drinking games and trawling from bar to bar.
On some of the walls, we saw scrawled messages proclaiming: ‘to be or to Airbnb?’ and ‘one Airbnb tourist kicks out two to three students from our city – enjoy’. A disconcerting message and an issue I plan to write about soon.
The end of our road trip to Portugal
So, 2,080 miles later here we are at our final destination, a rural house sit near Lagos in southern Portugal. We feel fortunate to be here enjoying this stunningly renovated house in a place where the sun shines reliably every day, the only noise comes from nearby farmers and barking dogs and we can sit on the veranda, peacefully working or eating a meal. So far, Portuguese life definitely agrees with us!
More to come about our incredible house sit, including trips to nearby sandy beaches, countryside towns and deserted dams. We’ll also be sharing some tips on how you can land yourself a house sit just as amazing as this one.