Sunday, 9 October 2011

the best

Lisbon Airport

Slow breakfast in Porto then a 3 hour train ride down to Lisbon. On our way.

Best hotel breakfasts: tie between Lisbon (internacional design hotel) and Evora.
Best hotel for service: Evora
Best hotel room: Lisbon
Best meal in Portugal: last night at Vinhas D'alho in Porto, the slow cooked lamb, pork cheeks and deserts were exceptional
Best baguette lunch: just now at the airport, but really hard to find a salad sandwich anywhere
Best weather: everyday we've been here has been near perfect
Best history monument: Moorish Castle Sintra
Best beach: Desert Island off Faro
Best coffee: consistently good

Best feeling: thankful for great holiday and looking forward to being home with family soon.

Friday, 7 October 2011

mere male in Porto

Feeling sorry for myself this morning. 

A few days ago, I actually don't know how, I injured my foot; felt like a minor strain on the ball of my right big toe. After copious kilometers of walking since then it has progressively got worse, swollen now so I can hardly walk. The only relief I get from the pain is elevating it.
So, on our last day, Maria is out exploring, backpack and camera in hand, and I'm stuck here in the hotel. Bummer.

On a brighter note, the weather is yet again unbelievably perfect. Absolutely clear skies, sunny and 27 or 28. We have had such a treat with the conditions. 

We had a 'fail' last night. The web application Trip Advisor, is a constant source of information while we travel. Maria used it extensively in the planning for our accommodation, and while here we use it daily to seek out good eating places, based on the recommendations of other travelers. So last night, wanting to avoid the conventional Portuguese tourist food, we spiraled in on a gourmet hamburger place with rave reviews.

Being too far to walk, especially with yours truly hobbling along in pain, we caught a cab, which wasn't as straight forward as we imagined. Having walked the length of the section of the street in which this place was supposed to be ( we had no number) we decided the reviews must have been old and the place had closed down. We wandered kind of aimlessly looking for either another place to eat or a cab back home. Wandering around the streets of a strange city after dark is probably not the smartest thing to do, especially when one of you is increasingly feeling lost.
We managed to find our back to a familiar place we had walked through earlier in the day, and hailed a cab back to the hotel. We somewhat reluctantly ended up eating at the same place as the night before, good food but disappointed not to have tried somewhere different.
As it turned out, the reviews were not old, Trip Advisor simply had the location of the place incorrect. Another block of walking would have found it.
It has been our first real failure in using Trip Advisor, and we were disappointed that our attempt to venture beyond the comfort zone of walking somewhere close by was unsuccessful.

View of Porto from the river..

hobbling into Porto

Late afternoon again, but no sangria this time, beer and nuts instead. We are sitting in the foyer area of our hotel looking out the open glass doors watching the world go by and deciding where to go for dinner. 

On arrival yesterday we walked the local area to get ourselves oriented, sat with a drink in the shade in front of our hotel, consulted trip advisor to find the best and nearest restaurant, soaked in the tub and later enjoyed grilled fish for dinner.

Today has seen us put our pride aside and do the tourist thing, hop on hop off bus tour, taking in some of the sights. We stopped off to walk through some local shopping strips, and stop for morning tea.(Portuguese tart included of course) We also stopped off in an area where many port makers cellar their produce. We visited the oldest port maker in the area, toured their cellars and sampled their wares, very enjoyable, and purchased a bottle of our favorite to bring home.

Now we are a bit weary and happy to rest for a bit. Colin has a sore foot so he has been hobbling today. We found the place we want to eat dinner tonight, but it is a bit of a hike, so we are yet to figure out the best way to get there. May have to taxi it, can't risk Colin further injuring himself!

Maria has just gone up to our room to retrieve the cord so we can upload a sample of today's photos ... So will do that in a sec. Before then however a sight we had forgotten to write about.

A couple of days ago was a public holiday, the same day we trained it from one end of the country to the other. As we passed through Lisbon, we noticed what we initially thought was a rodeo scene close to the train line. However as went further we saw that men sat on fences along the side of dirt streets as if waiting for some kind of parade, when it dawned on us that we were seeing the preparation for a 'running of the bulls' where a herd of bulls chase people through the streets, or more accurately, fool hardy people try to out run the bulls. Sure enough a couple of kilometers along we saw a pen with a bunch of bulls in it.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

travelling stories

Bus Drivers
We had heard that a lot of Portuguese die on the roads. Given our up close observations of bus drivers, we are not surprised.
The bus trip from Evora down to Faro last week saw us pass through some stunning scenery. Instead of winding through the hills like Australian highways, the objective of this road maker seemed to be to eliminate hills. To do this the road traverse copious bridges of staggering height as it meandered south. Rather then go down into valleys and come up the otherside the road just kep going wih the bridge apparently 'coming up' to meet it.
As we drove south, our driver seemed obsessed with cleaning and biting his fingernails. While he concentrated hard on his nails, he would lean forward and steer the coach with his elbows, as we traversed these bridges seemingly hundreds of meters above the valleys below. At times I felt like leaning forward (we had secured the front seat - more on that later) and saying, 'just concentrate on driving the bus will you mate!'

Yesterday we took local buses west to the tourist coast. On the way back at one of our stops the driver seemed to be waiting past departure time, looking acros the road, and finally took off slowly with the door still open. A hundred meters down the road a girl jumped on the slowly moving bus, obviously known to the driver, with some drumsticks. As we drove down the road the driver proceeded to tear off the paper in pieces, casually turf the paper our his open window, and then munch away on his ice-cream, again steering with his elbows. Maria was particularly pleased when he finally finished and got two hands back on the wheel.

Seats and travel sickness
The first time we traveled on an intercity bus we discovered someone sitting in our seat. We were told (or at least she indicated) that essentially you don't take any notice of seat allocations.
For the very long trip from Evora to Faro I was pleased to see that our allocated seats were the two front ones. We decided we would act ignorant and indicate that we assumed we had the right to our allocated seats. We felt a bit mean to de-seat an older couple but were very pleased we had a good view out the front.

So when we got on the train early this morning, we didn't look properly at our tickets and got on early enough to secure what we thought was prime seating.
A couple of stops in the conductor comes around to check our tickets and informs us that we are in carriage 2 which is first class and that we'd need to move way up the train to carriage 5. What a bummer. 
Anyway, with no choice we sway our way up the train toward cattle class. I tell Maria that we'll leave our bags back in first class and I'll come back and get them once we've found our correct seat.
When we get there someone is sitting in our seat, of course! So we trigger a minor domino seat reshuffling as people merge into their allocated rather then chosen seat.
Then I begin the task of getting our luggage and lugging it through the swaying carriages up to our end of the train. Naturally, in this situation you avoid all eye contact with fellow passenges - you already know what they are thinking - stupid British tourists trying to exploit the system or just plain dumb.
BTW we end up sitting beside a German couple who we had shared the bird watching boat crisis with in Faro and had also run into across at Tavira. Small world.
Anyway, by the time I got the first bag back and turned to head back towards first class to retrieve the second, the swaying train had got to me and travel sickness came at me like a freight train.
I pressed ahead, managing to get the bag back in time for a quick stop over at some disgusting loo where some little kid had peed all over the place and not cleaned up ... As I bent over and reached I'm not sure whether the motion sickness or the state of the toilet was worse.
I stagger pale faced and sweating back to my seat and curse the air-conditioning set at 25 and no ventilation. Only 5 hours to go.
Another trip to the little room, lots of shut eyes and willed snoozing and eventually I started to come right. Not the most pleasant few hours of the trip for me so far.

That's all behind now, we have arrived in the fascinating river city of Porto and you guessed it, Maria has done it again. You'll see photos of the setting in which our hotel sits soon, suffice to say this is an amazing place, and even though we've been here less than half a day, Maria has already announced that we could easily have spent a week here.

It's a public holiday here today, so lots of people in the streets ... And it's hot today 30 degrees, so a real summery feel.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

tourist town

Late afternoon finds us with another jug of sangria, this time sitting right on the beach front at Quarteria. Actually I'm sitting on my own, Colin has gone in for another dip, his third today! 

We took ourselves east this time to explore the coast a little in the opposite direction. We had a fantastic run with local buses today, often they come only every hour or so. We had three minutes to wait in Faro this morning to catch our bus to Albufeira. We perused the local gypsy market (not particularly interesting - lots of underwear, bags and dangly jewelry) We found our way to one of the beaches nearby where Colin had his first dip. We swallowed our pride and got on board the tourist train to save our tired legs and got a ride to a shopping/eating strip, where we managed to find a half decent sandwich. Another walk to another small beach and another dip for Colin. Then back on the little choo choo and a welcome ride to where we needed to catch our bus. We saw it pull in and ran for it, just making it in time.Whew.

We headed back towards Faro but got off at Quarteria to have a sticky beak. The towns and beaches this way are more like the Gold Coast, touristy and built up (though the beaches are not as good, not that we are biased or anything) Another walk along the board walk and finally a welcome rest for a drink and of course Colin can't resist another swim. We are glad we did not stay at this end of the Algarve, too commercialized for us - nice to have a look at though. Let's hope we can find where to catch the bus back to Faro and don't have to wait for ages.

N.B the reason we don't know where to catch the bus from is that Colin suggested that we get off at a marina and walk into Quarteria, another couple of kilometers walk it turned out, and I didn't question his sense of direction or complain I'll have it known.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

at the beach on the Med

It's just after 9pm and we've migrated back to the marina front restaurant for coffee and ice-cream. Tonight we couldn't face the same tourist faire that the ubiquitous alfresco places dish up so we went Japanese. The simple clean tastes were delightful. At one point communication was a bit tricky because neither of the table waiters spoke English so I changed to Japanese. After a momentary blank stare she said, 'oh, I Chinese'. Doh.

This morning we headed further east to another coastal town called Tavira. One of the attractions was that it was reportedly less tourist oriented. It certainly had a really good feel about it but there were still plenty of tourists around. We climbed some steps from the city square up the hill to an ancient castle. The walls were all that remained and inside them was planted a beautiful shady garden, a magnificent place to escape the still heat, which today, again, was nearing 30. The plaque out front informed us that parts of the structure date back to the eighth century BC. We marveled at how in Australia when something is 100 years old you don't get to even touch it, there are chains protecting it from the public. Here, we get to climb all over a structure nearly 3 thousand years old.

Along this part of the southern Portugal Coast, called the Algarve, there are a series of long spit-like islands. Therefore to get to an ocean beach you have to catch a ferry across to the island. Today we did that from Tavira. I have been keen to go to a couple of beaches to see how they do the beach thing here. So here a few observations:

At popular beaches they have those permanent shade structures like we associate with pacific islands. (see Marai's photos).
There also tends to be lots of outdoor restaurants, not so much like ours with the typical plastic chairs near a surf club kiosk, but more like the alfresco places you find in the towns.

While it's not particularly unusual for women to be topless on Australian beaches, we have discovered that Portuguese have a much more liberal beach dress code. On the couple of beaches we've been on it's not unusual to see people, men and women, completely starkers, just wandering around picking up shells etc. The people in the water today seemed to be kids and tourists, which struck me as a bit unusual given how hot it was and how beautiful it was in the water, but Maria wondered if it was just that it is Autumn for them, so while it's warm enough to be at the beach, swimming weather has passed for them.??

Now the other thing to mention is Maria's lack of faith in my directions. Having looked at the map I figured out where we needed to walk from town to catch the ferry. I concede that I was unsure about the distance, but I was confident about the road and the direction. That it was hot, and the long dusty road initially appeared to be going out of town to nowhere didn't give Maria much joy. I adamantly suggested we press on. Probably not the day to be walking long distances in the heat, suffice to say that the daily soak in the bath felt even better today after we had put quite a few kilometers into our legs.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Sunday love

It is six thirty and we are sitting in the late afternoon sun by the marina enjoying a glass of sangria. People meander by or sit on park benches making the most of a warm, lazy Sunday afternoon. The planes that regularly fly overhead are the only thing marring the serenity.

Today we joined a guided boat tour that explored the Rio Formosa (mud flats - national park) that line Faro's coastline. Our guide was enthusiastic about the bird life, flora, history etc...of the mud flats, at least we now understand a little more of the ecosystem. The tour ends at an island off the coast, they call it the deserted island, although it has a restaurant and plenty of people enjoying the white sandy beaches along it's south side.(will add photos to the album). Colin went for a dip, we walked along the beach for a bit and then sat and had a lazy lunch looking out at the coastline, very pleasant really! We did a little more exploring after lunch, Colin had another quick swim and we caught the ferry back. An excellent way to spend a Sunday in Portugal.

We are only a week away from being on our way back to Brunswick. I am finding it increasingly hard not to think about work and life back home, in part because I haven't properly processed my responses to beig at the Do Lectures. However my work oriented thinking is slow and fits in around activities such as this. 

As Maria was writing I was pondering the idealic scene of which we are a part. One of my favorite authors is Englishman Allain de Botton. One of his books is called the Art of Travel in which he explores the phenomena of western tourism (think palm trees and desert islands) and the fantasy associated with it. His concluding theme is that travel often fails to live up to expectations because 'we take ourselves with us'. In other words, travel as an escape just doesn't work.

As I sit here in this wonderful setting, I am conscious that the peace and joy I feel is not actually about the marina and the warm setting sun. It is related to how blessed I am and in particular how smart I was to choose this amazing woman sitting with me as my life partner. Having got that bit squared away, the setting and the privilege of adventure travel is pure joy.

OK so that might be a bot soppy, but so be it.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Faro at night

Took the camera out tonight to capture some of the night lighting around the hotel. Added some photos below.


PS, another thing about the coffee. It's cheap. 0.70€ (less than AUD1) was the best we've done but typically 1€ or 1.5€. Similarly other drinks are cheap too, the other day we bought a 375ml can of ice tea (same as we get at home) for 0.33€.


arriving in the Algarve

In Portugal the coffee is served short and in my experience it's always really good. The one I've just finished is from a little local cafe in Olhao, where we are waiting for our train. We expected to get one by now but being a Saturday they don't run as frequently.

We came across here late morning after strolling around bits of Faro after breakfast. We unexpectedly arrived on market day, alhough they were packing up by the time we arrived. We managed to get a bit of a feel for the produce. We picked up a local style donut, some nuts and dried fruit for lunch which we enjoyed eating sitting in a nearby shaded park while teenage boys played soccer nearby.

While sitting here in the cafe we discovered another Portuguses tradition; if you are enroute from a wedding ceremony to the reception, you blow your car horn, and tie little bits of ribbon on the top of your antenna. The siesta like ambience was broken for the 5 minutes or so it took for the wedding cars to drive past.

The bus ride yesterday was long (four and a half hours) but it took us through some lovely countryside. Being Autumn here, the land seemed a bit parched, brown and yellow, similar colours to ours. The crops had all been gathered in and the earth was bare and an orange brown colour. 
Faro is the capital city of the Algarve region, in and of itself it is not a place to stay really, but it is a good place to base yourself for day trips. Our hotel is fairly ordinary, nothing to complain about, but nothing to rave about either. It is close to the marina and is near the old part of the city and a shopping precinct. It is the best area to stay in Faro.

We have been looking at maps and checking on the Internet to plan the next few days. Unfortunately some of the places we would like to see are not really accessible by public transport, but there is lots to choose from anyway.....
One plus, we found a sandwich franchise, portuguese stlye subway. After arriving around seven pm last night we walked past the place on our way to the hotel and came back later to get baguettes for dinner, which we ate sitting on a bench at the marina, just hit the spot.

Around Faro...