We tried to drive to a place across the road from our hotel in the Bilbao suburb of Barakaldo to get breakfast, missed the entrance, drove around the building and ended up on the motorway, which subsequently took us miles out of the way before we got off and found ourselves well and truly lost. We found a place and got some breakfast. Two hours later we saw our original destination alongside the highway as we headed out of town.
Despite my previous post, we decided to avoid the toll roads today. For one thing, it was only about 15 minutes longer on non-toll roads vs. the toll road for this route, and we wanted to be easily able to make stops. As it turns out, the main roads were excellent and just about as fast as the motorways. Once we got off the main highways, things slowed down a lot.
The drive from Bilbao to Braganca just over the border in Northeastern Portugal takes you though varied countryside. It begins with rugged costal scenery, which reminded me of Scotland or Northeastern Australia, followed by Basque alpine-like passes, then comes lush rolling hills, redolent of Ireland in the glorious summer. After a while the landscape switches to wide, flat corn and wheat fields, sort of like the American midwest (think Nebraska, just not as flat). Eventually, as we approached the Portuguese border we began to climb through hilly passes that reminded me of southern France. When I was 12 years old, I remember a family vacation to Haute Savoie in France and my Mum being very nervous as we drove through what she called, “road runner country” – roads with a mountain face on one side and a steep drop off on the other.
About half way through the journey, Kelly noticed large nests up in the electrical power lines and exclaimed, “Look – there are storks!” I presumed therefore this is where the baby factory must be. Since we didn’t see any human babies I have to presume the factory is currently idle.
The drive drom Bilbau to Braganca took about 6 hours overall. We had chosen Braganca as a convenient place to stop in order to explore the Douro valley the next day. As it turns out, Braganca. It turned out to be a lovely walled town with a 12th century castle. Our guide book states that the Rua dos Fornos just outside the walls was the Jewish quarter, but there was nothing really to see there.
Next to the castle was a porca, a pre-Roman pig statue, in this case with a pillory through it (probably a myuch later addition). Porcas can aapparently be found in a few towns in tis region of Portugal and were thought to be involved in fertility rituals.
We walked a little around the town and I noticed that almost all the doors seemed to be unique, of various colors, sizes and styles and in varying degrees of disrepair. I’m hoping that this might make an interesting photographic series.
We chose a restaurant recommended by our guidebook which is supposedly quite expensive for Portugal, but turned out to be moderate or even inexpensive compared to Spain. I was a bit disappointed that the dish I really wanted to try, pheasant with chestnut, is made with pork. So, we each had fish instead.
After we sat down, the server brought us home-baked crusty bread with the greenest colored olive oil we’ve ever seen. It had been flavored with a little bit of garlic and was incredibly delicious.
Portugal is of course a wine producing country, probably best known for its fortified wines, but it also produces a wide variety of traditional wine. We had half a carafe of their house white, which was very pleasant and it only cost us 3.50 euro. We could have had a full carafe for 4.50 euro.