After a frustrating day climbing up hills in Coimbra, both literally and figuratively, I left the city which had left me feeling only exploited. It’s the first place I’ve visited in Portugal where I had to pay for a map and the sites were unnecessarily expensive, so I didn’t visit any. The narrow, cobbled streets were also lined with souvenir shops selling postcards, key rings and fridge magnets, few of which had any association with the city but served as reminders of Portugal in general or other city symbols, such as the Barcelos Cock.
Ten kilometres down the road is the small town of Condeixa-a-Nova, an unassuming little place close to the Roman ruins of Conimbriga. It has a well-publicised but poorly signposted Aire and, after a few fruitless attempts at finding it, I end up in a small supermarket beneath a block of flats asking for directions. The two young girls manning the tills seem to know exactly where it is but are unable to give me directions. In the end, one puts on her coat and beckons me outside. She shakes her car keys, indicates her car and motions for me to follow her. We complete a wide semi-circle of the town and enter from the far side. Following signs for ‘mercado’ and eventually the more familiar blue signs featuring a motorhome symbol. She drives right up to the service point. Then she toots her horn, smiles and waves goodbye, disappearing back up the street.
It looks like a good place to spend the night. There are a few blocks of flats with some small shops underneath. The morning market is being disassembled but I manage to get some fresh meat and vegetables at a ridiculously low price. During the afternoon, while I’m relaxing with a vanilla latte and a good book, some Portuguese motorhomes start to appear. A few at first, but then a convoy of about a dozen. They pull into the now-empty marketplace and line up. By the evening it is full with more than 50 motorhomes all members of the ‘Associacao de Autocarvanismo Portuguesa’, here for an annual get together and to celebrate the chestnut harvest. There are events taking place all weekend: walks, talks, food and drink. They have even hired the local theatre for a meeting. I’m invited to join them for the modest fee of €5 but I have other plans for the weekend, so after chatting and tasting some roasted chestnuts I bid them goodnight.