Daws.ca
Saturday, December 23rd, 2006

Portugal - December 2006

The lake by the posh resort we stayed at. This place was so nice and so cheap! Only a few extra euros than our lisbon hostel.

We’re back from a nice relaxing week in southern Portugal! Left the UK knowing very little about Portugal and what we would find there. Can’t say we can complain at all! Had a great time, had sun every day, and neither one of us thought about work for an entire week!  (Tony's edit's are in blue).

 

After a long night of traveling 4 hours by train to Manchester, sleeping in the airport and taking a 3 hour flight to Faro we arrived sleepily to our first hotel. We had booked a surprisingly cheap resort-like hotel for the first night to ensure we got some good sleep and weren’t sharing a room with anyone else. The hotel was very nice! It had a big campus, a farm with many animals (camels, llamas, ostriches, in addition to the usual farm characters), two pools, a bar, a restarant, a spa, horse-back riding, dirt bikes (of course all of which you had to pay extra for), and we had our own ensuite room! We couldn’t have asked for more.  And the sun in December felt like Vancouver late-spring! It was very nice and warm!

 

The first night rocked. We ate a very posh dinner which was absolutely divine.  The wine was incredible.  I’m getting used to the whole serve-you-a-taste-first-for-your-approval thing.  There was a group of ~12 men who would sing randomly throughout the night which was great.  The waitress said the music/singing was traditional for the area, but bursting into song at dinner was quite unusual.

 

Later in the meal Tony proceeded to almost burn the place down!  He put down his nice cloth napkin on top of the little tea-light candle on the table without noticing… then smelt something burning and noticed his napkin was catching fire! He quickly put it out by with no one noticing and hid the burnt edge of his napkin under the rest of it. Haha What kind of place has open tea-lights and massive cloth napkins anyways? :p    I don’t think we were high-class enough for this place…pre-tasting the wine felt odd and we were way too excited about them putting the wine in an ice bucket beside us.

 

After dinner we enjoyed the sunset by the lake.

 

In the morning we enjoyed their breakfast buffet (which was included in our nights stay). So much food! Fresh fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice, meats, cheeses, tea, coffee, bread, cakes, desserts….etc…  We feasted… weren’t hungry again till dinner time (which is especially unusual for Tony who gets hungry every hour)! A girl dressed as santa came around saying “ho ho ho” and handing out candy to all of us

 

After breakfast we went out to look at all the animals in the farm. V was trying to take pictures of the ostriches but would freak out when they came anywhere near us, even though they were on the other side of a fence.  They were going to take my camera away from me! The ostriches were pecking at the gate and were looking at us with evil eyes as if they wanted to get out and eat us! They have funny prehistoric looking feet! I liked the goats and pigs better :)

 

Explored a couple towns in the Alentejo region of Portugal before heading into Lisbon. All the houses are white with red roofs and mostly have a blue or yellow painted trim around the door, windows, and house. Some have green or pink trims. We met a nice old man who we stopped and chatted to for awhile in Evora. He spoke Portuguese, Spanish, English, French and Italian; we ended up talking about the peculiarities in the differences between the languages. Evora was a lovely little town. We really liked its park which was full of peacocks. So many peacocks! We watched them for a while then wandered along the paths through the park.  They honk.  They sound like trucks, sorta.  Little trucks.

 

The drive to Lisbon was nice. We saw herds of pigs and cows and many hills with olive trees and rocks surrounding the trees. Our hostel in Lisbon was in a great location. It was in one of the old neighborhoods, the Bairro Alto. The drive in was great as we arrived in the dark and the city was completely lit up with Christmas lights. They really go all out in Portugal with different lights down every street. Looked very pretty and christmasy! Later we realized they do this in every town. The other thing they do in all the towns is put a plush santa climbing up the wall of the house, up the window, or up their balconies. We arrived to our hostel just in time for the home cooked meal they do every night.

 

The next day we spent our time wandering around the cobbled streets of the Bairro Alto and the other old neighborhood of Lisbon, the Alfama. We sat in a square between the two neighborhoods looking at the buildings, statue, and a giant Christmas tree they erected in the middle of the square that must’ve been at least as tall as a five story building. I left Tony alone for two minutes to take a picture and when I come back he tells me that a scruffy looking man approached him trying to sell him some hashish. And when Tony declined the man tried again in very broken English. Eventually the scruffy man gave up and spat at Tony, not once, but twice. Hahaha  It wasn’t quite spitting, that sounds horrible, actually I was laughing at him… its when you stick your tongue out between your lips and blow.  They are fond of doing that in Portugal in place of saying ‘Bah!’.  The trouble that Tony gets into when I leave him alone! Hahaha We then left the square and walked down a street with many vendors, listened to some south American music being played by a group of Ecuadorians, and bought  a small lovely painting from a Portuguese painter which we sadly forgot in our hostel :(  And they haven’t found it so I don’t think we will ever see it again.

 

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Next day we explored the peninsula to the west of Lisbon and visited Cabo da Roca, the western-most point of mainland Europe. Visited the town of Sintra next. Ended up parking near the entrance to the historic center. By the time we figured out what way we were supposed to walk and got our bearings we realized we should have kept driving, but having already paid for parking with our remaining coins we decided we would just keep walking. Ended up hiking a mountain in order to get the Moorish Castle which stood high above the town. Had to go in and see it after walked for so long. It ended up being one of the nicest castle’s we’ve seen so far in the UK/Europe. It was surrounded by a dense forest and paths that connected it to the town below. The castle itself was in ruins but the trees and greenery around it made it look very nice. Starving and incredibly thirsty we walked back down to the town, this time through the forest. Trying to drive back to our hostel was challenging. “Jane”, the GPS system that Tony has on his PDA, had been guiding us everywhere on this trip and we were relying on her to get us back to our hostel which was in a residential area in a town nearby. The batteries died 5minutes out of Sintra and we were left trying to guess which roads to follow. The printouts we had from the confirmation the hostel had sent us by e-mail were not too helpful. They only stated clues about where they were located, like “find the shopping mall in Cascais town center and take the road to the left (but which left, cause the road to the left depends on which way you are facing!) and then a right after a sharp left”… so we used all their clues and had to complete the scavenger hunt before finally arriving to our beds!  We did end up getting a peak at the biggest casino in Europe by chance along the way though!

 

We drove South next along the western coast of Portugal, stopping by some very pretty unspoiled natural beaches. We drove inland a bit to where our hostel was located along a small tree lined road surrounded by many green hills and trees. We took a walk around the lake by our hostel and had an early night as we were staying in a very small town, probably only a 100 people or so. The next morning we awoke to a very cold frosty morning, reminded us of Canadian winters. Even had to sit and wait till the snow de-frosted! Went on a nice morning walk by the river next to our hostel.

 

Kept driving South. We stopped at a very lovely beach called Zambujeira do Mar. There were many people surfing in the water. We walked along the beach and reached an area where there was a small stream of water that was formed by the incoming waves that was just wide enough that it was blocking off another part of the beach. I climbed a rock thinking that we wouldn’t be going much further. Tony in the meantime waited patiently for the stream to narrow so he could jump across.  When V turned around and saw me on the other side, she immediately ran up to the stream and jumped across… or rather straight into it!  It took a good five minutes of waiting for the perfect moment when the waves were just right to get across but she just launched herself across blindly… I laughed my ass off; I’m so nice :o) I thought if HE could do it then I could do it too!

We then climbed to the top of the rocks to the top of the hill and got a nice view of the town and beach.

 

Our next stop was the southwestern most point of Portugal, a place called Sagres. Which consisted of very high cliffs. There were men fishing on top of these cliffs and apparently when it is very stormy the waves crash below and spray up meters above the cliffs. Crazy to think about but would’ve been quite spectacular to experience!

 

We then continued onto the tourist town of Lagos in Portugal’s Algarve region. There were many shops/restaurants and everyone spoke good English and the menus were in English. Although in the rest of Portugal we didn’t have a problem communicating with our five Portuguese words as everyone we met knew English and if not then they knew a bit of Spanish it was even easier in the Algarve region probably cause this region is where tourists flock in the summer months. Being winter, Portugal in general was very quiet. Only the first two hostels we stayed at had other tourists (the resort and in Lisbon). Everywhere else we stayed we were the only ones there and it felt like the owners had opened up their hostel just because we had reserved before arriving. We had the entire place to ourselves.

 

The beach, Praia de Dona Ana, in Lagos had nice green water with many large rocks coming out of the water, and a nice sandy beach, making the landscape look beautiful! We walked along the beach to the side of a large rock wall. Tony climbed over it and found that the beach continued. The two of us then continued exploring the beach climbing over more rocks, around rocks and through caves in the rocks as far as we could around the shore line…. Sometimes squeezing through tiny little openings in the rock face. We actually made it quite far and it was a fun adventure!  The beach just seemed to keep going despite the large cliffs that seemed to block you every few yards, there was always a way past/through/over them.  Sometimes the twists and turns would end in an interesting little formation, like one part which emptied out into a almost perfectly cylindrical “room” about 5m in diameter lined with uniformly pocked stones and an ocean-fed pool on one side. 

 

We then drove to another tourist town in the Algarve, called Albufiera. There were many big white houses/tourist looking resorts here. The tourists were wearing shorts and tank tops and swimming in the ocean! I guess it was warm enough when you were sitting on the beach. But at night! Oh my, it was FREEZING! So cold that Tony and I were shivering and wearing as much as we do in Glasgow! Crazy how much the temperature can change when the sun goes down. The biggest problem is that none of the buildings there seem to have any insulation at all, built only for the summer months, so even when we had a heater, it really didn’t seem to do all that much.  During the day we relaxed on the beach and walked around the town. While walking down the beach a wave came up towards us and Tony did a little funny side stepping dance to avoid getting wet at which I laughed cause he looked funny. To get me back he picked me up and threw me in the water! I landed right in the incoming wave, fully clothed, and then had wet feet for the rest of the day!  He says he didn’t mean to get me wet but I think he missed the look on my face when I accidentally jumped into the water a few days before! Hahaha

 

We finished off our time in Portugal with a yummy gelato by the beach and a nice traditional Portuguese meal.

 

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