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Exploring the North of Spain by car

And this adventure starts with a trip to Figueira da Foz, train starting in Santarém to Pombal, then regional train to Alfarelos, and at least a suburban train to Figueira da Foz. And I still managed to exchange 1000 points from my Galp card for the return ticket, a trip from Coimbra do Oriente by Alfa-Pendular for free! A quality trip without stops! The first step towards the north of Spain!

Note: This is the translation of an old article. The style used and opinions might differ from more recent articles.

The beginning of the trip

At some point on my way to Figueira da Foz, I sent a text to Edgar (or at least I thought so). And when I arrived I give him a miscall to let him know I was there…, but I was sending messages to another person, an old contact I had that I have no idea who that person is. Sadly this isn’t the first time this happens… I didn’t even have to wait 5 minutes for him, really on time! And here I go, on a trip with a guy I never met in person before! A couchsurfing adventure, just like I like!

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Our goal for the first part of the trip was not using GPS in Portugal! And so it was, towards north very relaxed with some natural stupidity, which is a big trait of mine. One thing I learnt on my way to the north of Spain, is that Portugal adopted in some parts of the country a “no toll” system with via-verde (wireless tags). No tolls at all for those who have this system, just a horizontal bar above the highway that will read the sensor. And if you want to know how much you paid? You’ll have to check it online… If you don’t have this tag, then you are diverted out of the main road, to pay, which makes it slightly a hassle if you don’t have via-verde.

Entering the North of Spain

We stopped somewhere in the North of Portugal for lunch, we ate a few sandwiches that Edgar’s mother made (thank you!), and after lunch we had to decide where the hell we would cross the border. Either Caminha or Valença would be good options…, however there was something missing… we were already in Vila Nova de Cerveira. In less than 5 minutes we say a big blue sign with 12 stars saying ESPANHA… We turned on the GPS, and we realized we were further north than we thought we were… Even though the GPS often was getting confused, it finally told us where we were, so we ended up crossing the border in Vila Nova de Cerveira, and not neither in Caminha nor Valença.

Getting to know A Coruña

As soon as we arrived in A Coruña we sent a text to our host…, or so we thought…, we tried to call…, no one picked up…, this doesn’t look good…., maybe we will end up sleeping inside the car?

In the meanwhile, we also suggested a CS meeting in the city, which ended up resulting in another misunderstanding. We went back and forth looking for a bar, that it was closed after all. Where the hell are this city’s couchsurfers?? At least we had the phone number of one of them, and we managed to meet him, which happened to know our host! They saved our night! We had the wrong phone number (two incidents alike in the same day….)!!! We arranged to meet at her place after our night out, since she had a birthday party, and so we keep going with those couchsurfers. It was a great night, packed with coincidences, one of them was the ex-flatmate of a C13 I met the day before!! Another one worked for my company, but in Spain!

We arrived at our host’s place around 2 am…, I don’t know what was going on with the GPS satellites that night, but maybe they were on a strike. Of the 3 GPS we had in the car, NONE managed to caught signal!! We had to use guide ourselves with the GPS map, following it the old way, looking at streets’ names and crossings!

A Coruña Lighthouse
A Coruña Lighthouse

We finally managed to get to their place, it took a while but we did it! And the night went by, we brought Favaito Moscatel (not from Setúbal but from Douro), which we drank right there. We had a few hours of chat with them, and one of them had to take a flight right in the morning…, poor her… It was a really nice couchsurfing night, a short experience but memorable!

The next day we went to explore the city. Walk, walk, walk, take photos, and more photos and a few more photos! I think this is the best way to resume that afternoon. Then we headed towards León…, poor Edgar…, I don’t know if it was for a long time, but someone (MYSELF) let the poor guy drive alone while the other one was sleeping… The few I remember to see was a really gorgeous landscape.

Arriving in León was easy, the hardest part was the parking. It’s almost like they have a car per inhabitant! A lot of cars!

Exploring a bit of León and heading towards Salamanca

We met our host, this time it was a Portuguese guy, and we went to party! We met another Portuguese girl, who was doing Inov Contact there (a huge coincidence, an Inov Contact in the middle of nowhere), and, like I said before, we went “de fiesta”! On the way we also saw part of the Holy Week procession, which kind of shocked me…, do those people wear KKK clothes? In fact, the KKK wear their clothes…, but it was quite unsettling to see that at first. I won’t bore you with details on how the night went, but it was a really nice night, with Spanish Tapas!

Booking.com

Third day…, waking up, strolling around the city, take photos (blablabla) and then back to the road for the third and last destination! Salamanca! GPS can be a bit more fun than just pointing ups the way. The data received by the GPS allows the device to calculate the geographic position in 4D, which means, altitude, longitude, latitude and time. Now I want to talk about the altitude, and like you probably already know, a big chunk of the north of Spain sits on the top of a Plateau. From León to Salamanca we drove always on that plateau, where the landscape reminded me a lot about Alentejo, with the difference of being at 800 meters of altitude! I’ve been there a couple of times before, but I never noticed that detail, 800 meters is quite high, that’s almost half of Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain in Portugal’s mainland!

Exploring Salamanca and back to Portugal

Arriving in Salamanca, and again struggling to find a place to park the car…, and guess what? We managed to find a spot right in front of our host’s place! A really nice Italian guy who works there, and who invited us to go out for some tapas and being our tour guide. His flatmate join us, a German guy fluent in Spanish. The language used was mostly Spanish, which lead me to think “what the hell happened to the Spanish I learnt?”

Our plan was going for tapas, we were starving. Then we would meet with another German person, a girl to whom we also requested a place to stay, but who took longer to reply. More coincidences…, she is from a town near Dresden, but she was living in Dresden… Maybe one day we will meet again once I am back!

Exploring the North of Spain by car
Exploring the North of Spain by car

We went out for more tapas, and ANOTHER german girl join us, but this girl could speak very few Spanish, so I used that opportunity to speak in English and…, German! Oh yeah, who would have guessed I still can keep a basic conversation in German? I wasn’t even aware of that myself! I just sneaked into their conversation mentioning I visited the area of the other german girl. I managed to surprise myself, after two years I could still remember a few things in German, maybe I should go back into studying German? After that, we went to a few bars, and then nothing too eventful happened. One last detail about this night, we had a room for each other, this was CS luxury!

The following day, visiting the city at a flash speed, eating at the canting (can you believe I actually missed bad food?) and then we headed towards Ciudad Rodrigo. That was disappointing, I visited that town as a kid and my perspective back then was so much different. It’s impressive how kid’s memories are created, with so much fantasy. And at last, Portugal. Our only stop was in Coimbra, where I catch the train, and I could even replace the ticket to another train two ours earlier, or else I would have a long wait for my train. An Alfa-Pendular trip, without stops and for free!

By Gil Sousa

Portuguese expat in Cork, traveler and food enthusiastic.

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