Two weeks ago, it was our 39th anniversary. To celebrate, we decided we would go to the casino across the street to their “dinner and a show” special. Lovely dinner, appetizer, salads, main course, enormous desert, bottle of wine, and then an hour long dance show. We were excited to spend the evening around other people. Womp womp. We were the ONLY people in a restaurant which would easily seat 150, and the dancers outnumbered us 5:1. A lovely evening, but very weird to be the only people in the audience. Was it something we said??
This week we rented a car and spent the week touring around the Algarve area. Learned a few things:
Portugal sent flowers and said thanks for having Ron drive and not me. OMG. Roundabouts are an inescapable fact of life here. Nearly every intersection is a roundabout and you bloody well better figure out how to use them! Our first morning in the car had Ron paying attention to driving and me watching the road, the GPS and barking out orders… Second exit, stay right, third exit…. ahhhhhh! By day 2 and 3, Ron was a pro and my involvement was reduced to counting the exits and reading the road signs. Every once in a while we got to an intersection with a traffic light, and we were like “what the hell?”.
I had hoped we might get a sexy little European rental car, a Citreon, a Peugeot, a Fiat. Nope. A Ford Focus station wagon. The rental agent explained that since we had purchased our own insurance and not theirs, that they were giving us a car that was already damaged. That way if we added more, they couldn’t charge us for it! The car was quite scratched and dinged, but to Ron’s credit, no new ones were added. A 6 speed, manual, diesel Ford Focus is a bit different beast than the ones back home. It seemed more substantial, and was great on gas, we only fueled up on the day we returned it.
Time and Distances. Portugal is 1/6 the size of Alberta. It would fit between Edmonton and Banff. So most of the places we went were less than 100 km away, usually only 24-40 km. But, the population of Portugal is 11-12,000,000. Alberta’s is about 3.5 million. So let’s do the math. 1/6 the land mass and 4 times the population. 24 times the population density, and much of it concentrated around the coastal areas. 40 km might take over an hour, between roundabouts, traffic, reduced speed for towns etc. on the upside, lots of farms, vineyards, cork tree groves and trees. We stopped at a road side stand to buy oranges, just coming into season. For 4.50 euros, I got about 5 kg of delicious oranges. And a complimentary teasing about being in a short sleeved golf shirt while the vendor was wearing a winter coat. I told him we are from Canada, we are tough. That earned me thumbs up!
Pedestrians!!!!! OMFG. Pedestrians have the right of way, and they don’t hesitate to step off the curb right in front of your front bumper, and they can do it while you are white knuckling exiting a roundabout at the entrance to the new road. It’s like playing a wild video game where unknown obstacles are flung at you. We didn’t hit anyone, but felt close a few times.
Where did we go? We went to the east as far as Tavira and Olhao. Took a boat cruise of the Ria Formosa Nature preserve to see the bird life. There are 300 varieties of birds in the park, but (spoiler alert) we weren’t lucky enough to see any flamingos. But did learn that the Faro airport uses Falcons for bird control to prevent bird strikes, since the runway goes directly over the park. (Glad to hear this since we fly out of Faro next week!)
We went to Albufeira, Loule, Faro and little villages in between. I swear the GPS (who we called Gertrude in good moments and Bi%$h in bad ones, took perverse delight in taking us down the narrowest, tightest roads, at one point down a steep one lane road down the side of the mountain! Through streets so narrow we could have reached out and touched the walls of the buildings. But she always got us there. Portugal isn’t laid out with the grid system of streets that we are used to. Their towns and villages began long before the automobile, with narrow, windy cobblestone streets and building highways has likely been a challenge to integrate all the blind alleys and tiny roads.
Toll highways are a fact of life here. We mostly stayed on the back roads, but occasionally hit the major highways. The cars are outfitted with an electronic sensor that is attached to your credit card, so you drive under a sensor, the car beeps and you are paid!
We wandered through the Mercodo’s in small towns, buying fresh fruit and vegetables. Stopped for espresso in tiny cafes (sometimes just to use the washroom). Ate lunches in interesting looking restaurants. One where the resident large shaggy dog laid on the step in front of us and insisted on a tummy rub before we were permitted to enter. We stayed overnight in Olhao (vacation from our vacation) in a hotel overlooking the marina, and enjoyed our wine there while watching the sunset. We went to Monchique, which is in the “mountains” and the highest point in the Algarve. Not quite the Rockies, but still a beautiful view all the way to the ocean.
We went to a beach near Albufeira to escape the traffic and crowded city feel. We walked the beach, then sat on the benches to put our shoes on. Struck up a conversation with a delightful British expat couple, who live in Spain. They were touring in a motor home and had done a lot of travel in Europe. They admitted they were hesitant to strike up a conversation in case we were “American” and were delighted we were Canadians. I happened to mention that my sciatica was bothering me. The lovely lady just happened to be a yoga instructor and laid on the benches and demonstrated a number of yoga stretches!! They were an absolute delight.
The last day we went to Aljezur, to take in the Sweet Potato Festival. We parked where the signs said to, and then walked 20 minutes straight uphill to the event venue. Pam, can you say “Death March”? Made it, toured the exhibit booths, had a delicious stewed chicken with chickpeas and sweet potatoes lunch, bought the obligatory bag of sweet potatoes and trekked back home. But we are now one of the “in” crowd that’s attended the festival. So there.
Place names. So many places in Portugal have names starting with “Al”…. This is a reminder of the Moorish presence in Portugal hundreds years ago. Along the southern coast, many of the older buildings have Moorish influence, very lovely.
Last week, we went on another quick bus tour to Cape St. Vincent, Sagres and Lagoa. Cape St Vincent is the western most point in Europe. We waved to North America, if you were watching. In Lagoa, we toured several churches, one absolutely breathtaking, covered in Baroque wood carvings, covered in gold leaf. The detail and artistry was stunning, but unfortunately no pictures were allowed.
And so we are into our last week of Portugal. The weather is forecast to be about 20 a couple of days, so we will be on our balcony in our teeny tiny European bathing suits, taking in the rays. It’s been a great month here. I love being near the ocean, and sitting watching the surfers, lots of lovely places to walk and the laid back vibe of the place. A couple of Friday nights we have gone to a nearby hotel’s spa and enjoyed their water therapy pools. Wine on the walkway overlooking the ocean to watch sunsets. Good food. Lots of walking. (Only down side has been a wicked flare up of sciatica which is keeping me awake at night, so if you get texts, posts etc from me at odd hours, you are welcome!). This week, we have a “to do” list of things to get organized for our time home at Christmas. It’s impossible to believe it’s December 2 with the sun shining on us and the palm trees swaying in the wind, watching the surfers. Temperatures in Germany will be a rude shock, but I’m looking forward to seeing the Ziegler’s and our children.
obrigada for reading and talk again soon. Dinner tonight is salmon, sweet potatoes and salad. With wine. Zzzzzzz.