Day 13 – Carvoeiro

After packing up from the penthouse, we drove to Carvoeiro, less than a half an hour away from Albufeira. It is a good thing we have GPS on our phones or else we wouldn’t have found our way around. However, we can only get it with WiFi but If you don’t already know, once you get the map and directions, it stays on your phone, even without WiFi. And believe me, we would still be driving around trying to find our new place without it! If you lose it on your phone, you are stuck until you get WiFi again.

Casa Sereno is owned by a Dutch couple who have four apartments, plus a casita that they rent. The room is not huge yet has all the amenities you need, including a fridge, hot water pot, Nespresso coffee maker, covered porch and a pool and grounds that look like an Italian villa. No TV, which is just fine. The pool looked wonderful but at a temperature of 18C, that water will never touch our bodies!

The drive to Casa Sereno is narrow, windy and looks just like Italy or France,  unlike the eastern side of the Algarve. The roads are lined with cedar trees and that form a boundary between properties. And, the roundabouts, a staple of Portugal, eliminate the need for stoplights or turns. You just have to count the exits from the roundabouts to know where to go.

Carvoeiro centro is fairly small. Even with our minuscule car, parking was near impossible. It seems to be very difficult everywhere we have been in the Algarve. Once we found a place up the hill from the ocean, we just walked down and took a stroll on the beach. Although smaller than the one in Albufeira, there were more people enjoying another beautiful sunny day at the beach.

We found an interesting place to have an early dinner near the beach. Jim had a seafood pasta dish and I had a pita with turkey, pesto and cheese. We keep getting farther and farther away from typical Portuguese food. There were very few American English-sounding people there (and everywhere, for that matter).

We made it an early night and I worked on this blog. Tomorow, Sagres and more…

 

 

Day 12 – Albufeira

Since we really hadn’t explored much of Albufeira, we decided to find the beach (Playa da Pescadores) for a walk on the sand. You can’t park very close by, so we found a parking space (not an easy thing to do) and walked to the beach. We were surprised to find streets that were filled with a plethora of tourists visiting the souvenir shops and what must be over a hundred restaurants. There is every kind of cuisine, that’s for sure, even Mexican.

We found the beach, which is long, has brown soft sand, and minimal surf. There were people in the water, despite the fact that the Atlantic is very cold, at least for us folks. We could hear every kind of language spoken, although not much English (American or Canadian, that is). The Algarve is the preferred vacation destination for the Brits, French, German and Dutch mainly.

After a nice walk, finding shells everywhere, we decided to have a snack at the Shalom Burger Bar. A couple of beers and onion rings – yum! Believe me, the choices of restaurants made it difficult to decide where to go. We enjoyed the snack and then decided to go to the archeological museum nearby. It looked pretty interesting but was closed on Mondays. Oh well…

A stop for me at my favorite accessory store, Parfois, and I was a happy girl. If you go online (parfois.com), you will love what they have. They are a Portuguese company that has stores in many countries around the world, except the US and Mexico it seems) and will ship almost anywhere, including the US. Sadly, not to Mexico. The prices are amazing for the quality and style. I bought a scarf and could have purchased much more if it wasn’t for airline weight limits and my suitcase size. Darn!

After walking around, we decided to stay for lunch and return to the same Burger Bar. Jim had a pulled pork sandwich that was huge and so delicious. My hamburger without a bun was very tasty, too. By the time we finished, we didn’t need to go anywhere for dinner.

As we walked around, we saw incredible sand sculptures in the pedestrian area. The tree-lined streets were so enjoyable, filled with restaurants and music.

 

We returned to the apartment and I was really looking forward to a warm bath in the jetted tub. The water was warm enough but the jets didn’t work. One more thing to mention to the property manager. Truthfully, this penthouse had some nice amenities, like a nice view, which was the draw in our renting it. But otherwise, it lacked the simple amenities we would have expected… like a comfortable large bed, good pillows, and sheets, beach towels, soap, extra roll of toilet paper, laundry detergent, coffee pods for their coffee maker and bottled water, just to name a few items. The property manager was very nice about bringing some of these items to us, even though we thought we should expect soap, at the very least!

Another beautiful sunset and an end to a nice day. Tomorrow, we leave for Carvoeiro for three more nights in a new VRBO. It is only 20 minutes away… Cross your fingers!

Day 11 – Albufeira

We made breakfast in our apartment with the items we bought at the grocery store. The coffee maker uses pods, which we bought. However, since we are novices to this type of coffee maker, we didn’t know that we bought the wrong size pods. Yikes! The property manager came through once again with a few pods.

This morning, we decided to go to the marina and check it out. We booked a boat trip to see the famous Algarve caves, grottos, and maybe see some dolphins. There were many restaurants at the marina, perfect to get lunch before going out. Above the restaurants are condos that are brightly painted and offer the residents a lovely view of the marina and ocean.

There is a plastic life-sized dolphin filled with plastic trash. Obviously, this is a reminder of what the ocean and other waterways are dealing with. It is so sad.

Dolphins in the distance

This boat is a pontoon boat that holds 12 passengers, plus the guide and captain. It goes super fast to catch up with dolphins if there are any. The guide said that a pod (or more) of bottle-nosed dolphins were spotted and several other boats were scurrying over to see them. There they were! Wow! Even the guide said that he hadn’t seen this many in a long while. Every once in a while, one would jump high in the air, like at a dolphin show. it was impossible to capture them in a still shot, although I have lots of videos I took. They even jumped out of the water but not in my pictures.

After half an hour of following them, we turned toward the coast to check out the caves. We zoomed from the dolphins to the coast at breakneck speed. Many of the caves are quite famous and there were many boats viewing them. 

We went in and out of many caves. They were pretty spectacular. Inside some of them, there are beaches, only accessible via kayak or swimming, which we wouldn’t recommend. You have to fight for your space in between the boats and that could be treacherous! Still, you can see that they were pretty popular.

We ended up at Simply Ramos, a restaurant located on one of the busiest streets in Albufeira. There were many dance clubs with DJ’s, the loudest music you can imagine, 20-somethings trolling to meet other 20-somethings, gay bars mixed with souvenir shops, and restaurants for every taste (even Mexican). Jim has been keen on eating the bacalhau (codfish), grilled or sauteed but keeps finding presentations that don’t interest him (served with an omelet?) So, he ordered ribs and I ordered a chicken breast. No reason to take a photo, since neither dish was very memorable, although tasty.

Tomorrow, more exploring in Albufeira…

Day 10 – Albufeira

Most of our group returned to the Lisbon airport for their return home, via Newark. We could have hitched a ride to the airport to pick up our rental car, but they were leaving too late for our needs. Taxis are wonderful and cheap.

We got a tiny car, a Fiat 500, and it was a hoot to drive (five-speed standard transmission, for a change). Once outside of Lisbon, the roads are not crowded and easy to maneuver. Albufeira, our destination, is only 2.5 hours away. That gave us plenty of time to drive around the center of town and meet the property manager for the apartment we rented through VRBO at 2:30.

The apartment is a penthouse, overlooking the marina and the Atlantic. It is very bright and will be a good spot for us for these four days. The view of the Atlantic and the marina below is quite nice, but the sunset last night was spectacular.

We have a washing machine, which is a good thing, considering we have two weeks of dirty clothes. No dryer, so we hang our things on a drying rack on the balcony. You have to use clothespins because the wind is pretty fierce in the evening and otherwise, the clothes would blow away.

The balcony is absolutely huge, probably 500 sf alone! There are four lounge chairs, outdoor table, and chairs, plus enough room for a dance floor. Sadly, no hot tub! The unit below has one… Maybe we should become friends??

One thing we have noticed, both at our various hotels and here as well, is that there is absolutely no usable light in the bathroom over the sink or near the mirrors. And, there is no counter space. What gives? We had to move the bedroom lamp (the only one in the apartment and it is small, plastic and junk) into the bathroom, so we could see at all. And no lights in the living room either, other than an overhead fixture. I guess the owner of the unit didn’t want to take any chances with renters who might steal or misuse furnishings.

The property manager is very nice and did what she could to make us comfortable. She expected us to bring towels for the pool? How about soap and another roll of toilet paper? Or maybe a little laundry detergent to get us started? We did make a grocery store run for laundry detergent and some other necessities. Fortunately, we had some soap and body lotion from previous hotels. But, it would be nice, especially at hotel rates, to have a few amenities upon arrival.

LBV is Late Bottle Vintage – Yum!

By the way, we are now hooked on port wine. We bought a great bottle of ruby port, which we love sipping at the end of a meal and white port, which is also good and makes a wonderful drink with tonic and lemon as we had in Lisbon. I hope that we will be able to bring some back in our checked luggage!

Tomorrow, we will find some fun things to do…

Day 9 – Obidos and Lisbon

After breakfast today, we went to Obidos (pronounced Obidosh). This walled city was built in the early 8th century, then renovated in the 12th century. (Four hundred years to deteriorate? Now, that is good construction. Of course, it may have taken another four hundred to get the contractors to complete the job!)

If you have been to Carcassonne in France or the Alhambra in Spain, this is similar. The castle was closed (repairs again) but the narrow, winding streets have not changed, except they are now souvenir shops, cafes and purveyors of the famous drink here (and Sintra) of a sour cherry liqueur served in a thimble-size cup made of either dark or white chocolate. You sip the drink, then eat the cup! Sorry, no pictures. Too many people partaking…

As you drive to Obidos, there are wind turbines everywhere. Owned by Spanish companies, they erect them and buy the surrounding land, since no one wants to build or live around a turbine. They then sell the energy back to the Portuguese government. Supposedly, Portugal wants to become partners with these Spanish companies to reap the benefits and lower the amounts they pay to the Spanish firms. It is an expensive proposition but well worth it. Over the summer, when it was very dry here, there were numerous fires, many of which were near the area where turbines were to be built. Suddenly, land prices went down, causing speculation that the fires could have been started by the Spanish companies. Hmmm!
The morning clouds have disappeared and the sky is blue and cloudless. Each morning, we feel a chill but by the afternoon, it is in the mid to high 70’s… perfect weather. On the drive to Obidos, there are towns encroaching the countryside and vineyards. It is a beautiful, pastoral sight.
Once in town, we wandered around, hearing beautiful music from local troubadours, while checking out the stores. We sat at an outdoor cafe, sipping a cappuccino and enjoying the view of Lisbon from this high perch. We were tempted by the smell of freshly baked bread but deferred. The shop looked like it could have been there for centuries. The church with its lovely courtyard was a magnet for visitors and, of course.
As it got warmer, I didn’t need my jacket, so I put my purse and iPad down on a table to remove the jacket. Shortly after, as we were leaving Obidos and I looked in my purse for my iPad and it wasn’t there. Oh NO, that is a huge loss for me. All my pictures, email, and entries for this blog were in it. Our guide turned the bus around and she, Jim and I ran into town to find the place where I must have left the iPad. Several folks on the bus said they would pray to St. Christopher that it will be found!
Well, we ran through all the streets, hoping to find the location of the table where I put my purse and iPad. Jim finally found it, went inside the shop and the owner said she saw it and held it for us, positive that we would be back. My sigh of relief could be felt by everyone! St. Christopher came through.
Once back in Lisbon, we took the tram (electrically powered and older than dirt) that circles around the central part of the city to get a look at areas we may have missed. We passed by the local port with a huge cruise ship docked there. The visitors from the ship were everywhere, trying to soak up Lisbon life and souvenirs in a few hours.
Afterward, we walked from square to square to see the shops, people watch and just enjoy the city. There was a very large, very loud, group of university students near our square, just like in Coimbra. The ones in black with the capes (a la Hogwarts) are the new students, being initiated by the older students. It is their form of orientation. This is a tradition throughout Portugal. Supposedly, it isn’t hazing but friendly welcoming. Interesting…

We ended the day sharing a gelato (again). Sticking to vanilla mainly, we have been doing a taste comparison of vanilla gelato in all the cities. I mentioned the gelato store yesterday that forms their scoops in cones and cups to look like flowers. We had four flavors together, vanilla, dark chocolate, pistachio, and melon. I couldn’t pass up trying all the flavors! Another good day…

Day 8 – Sintra and Lisbon

Today was especially good. We drove from Lisbon to Sintra to visit the Pena Palace, a fairy-like castle that took thirty years to build. We got there early, to avoid the lines that inevitably start in the late morning. From the bus, there is a shuttle to take you to the castle itself and we got one for our group very quickly. You can also walk for free (the tram costs $3 EU) but our shuttle was included.

As you can see from the outside, the colors, various styles of architecture, details, Moroccan and Chinese influences, all play a part in making this castle a destination for many tourists. Its location gives you a unique opportunity to view Lisbon from this high point miles away.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the castle. We understand that this policy changes daily, depending on the number of tourists there. If everyone stopped to take pictures inside, the lines would be unending. As it was, by the time we left, around 11:00 AM, the line just to get into the castle was hundreds of people long. Jim and I walked down easily and waited for the shuttle at the bottom, where there was a huge line to get the next shuttle. Perfect timing for our group.

Portuguese pottery

Of course, we had to do some window shopping and stop for a coffee for Jim and cappuccino for me, plus a pastry or two…

We decided to relax a bit and then checked out the rooftop bar to catch the best views of Lisbon. It was a spectacular day. We got there just as they opened, at 5 PM. It was breezy, yet warm. I got some pictures of the surrounding hills and a cruise ship just departing from the port. We ordered smoked salmon tapas, a sangria for me and a draft beer for Jim. It was the perfect light meal to end the day.

 

Day 7 – Lisbon

Golden Gate Bridge clone

In the morning, we left for Lisbon. We passed more vineyards, this time with grapes of muscatel wine, a sweet dessert wine. No stopping, as we were aiming to get to the city just after rush hour. Like Rome, Lisbon is a city of seven hills. You enter over a bridge reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge (which was built by the same architect who designed and built the San Francisco landmark).

Our first stop was the Monastery of Jeronimos (Geronimo). This cloister is Gothic but in the manueline style. This style is more decorative than traditional Gothic, which is normally stark, due to King Manuel, who was married to the second daughter of Isabel and Fernando of Spain. He liked more sculptural details, evident in the columns and arches.

Interestingly, there was a huge earthquake, 8.9 strength, that devastated most of the structures everywhere in Portugal in 1755. Throughout the country, most of the important buildings and churches had to be repaired as a result of this earthquake. Due to the type of Gothic construction used in most churches, convents, and monasteries, you may see cracks in the columns, replaced stained glass, but the structures are totally intact. Can you imagine how frightened people must have been during such a monumental event?

Unfortunately, upon our departure from the Monastery, it began to rain. Of all our trips, we have been fortunate to dodge the rainy days we have experienced on this trip. I had my rain jacket but Jim packed his jacket in his suitcase. Our lame umbrella wasn’t much help, either. Oh well… We didn’t melt!

From the Monastery, we stopped at the famous Belem Tower. On clear days, you can see the mouth of the Tagus River, leading to the Atlantic (sorry no pictures – too rainy). That was how the explorers came in via ship. Today, the view was minimal. A few brave souls went up the tower, while the rest of us hung out at a nearby cafe for something warm instead of the 30-minute climb. The few who climbed the 100 steps of the tower couldn’t see much. We just checked our email at the cafe and waited for the brave souls who climbed up the 100 steps.

By the time we got back to our hotel, the rain stopped and we had the afternoon at leisure to could walk around or go to one or two of the many museums. We opted to relax, then walk around toward the river leading to the Atlantic.

We walked on the pedestrian street, lined with shops selling souvenirs, clothes and lots of shoe stores (my favorite). Jim is so patient and just waits outside while I stop in to check out the interesting items in the shops. Sometimes he will come in and look at shoes, but he wears a wide width and almost never can find shoes that fit. We were surprised in Madrid when he found a great pair that were wide enough. They are now one of his favorite shoes, other than flip flops!

Pedestrian street

Down the center of this walking street, you find a restaurant after restaurant down the middle and on the side streets, with outdoor tables everywhere. There are buskers playing music, a man manipulating a marionette playing piano, and break dancers, all looking for tips by displaying their talents.

At the end of the pedestrian street, you enter Commercial Square through an arch that must be three stories tall and very famous. As you walk through the arch, you can see the Tagus River. There are restaurants all around the enormous square and, of course, the ubiquitous statues in the middle (Vasco de Gama or Henry the Navigator, not sure which).

As we looked at where to eat, a sign on the square caught our eyes. It said, “The Sexiest WC in Lisbon.” Well, we couldn’t pass that up and if it included a real WC, so much the better. I went inside and discovered that it as run by Renova, a paper company that advertises toilet paper in beautiful, bright colors, as well as black and brown. For $1 EU, you go in and get a roll of toilet paper from the wall, taking the color of your choice. It was difficult to select which color.  As most of you know, we women never pass up an opportunity to stop at a baño. I actually bought two rolls to bring home, which made Jim’s eyeballs roll to the back of his head. He picked the bright yellow color, so he had a hand in this, too.

Time for a bite for dinner. We stopped on the pedestrian street again, where selecting a restaurant was a daunting task. We settled on one and ordered a pepperoni pizza (very thin, crispy crust) and a grilled vegetable skewer of eggplant, peppers, and zucchini. We cut up the vegetables and added them to the pizza for a fabulous meal. A couple of beers (love that Super Boch on draft) and we were happy campers. Of course, there was the gelato in the shape of roses. You can pick as many flavors as you want and as long as they fit into the cup or cone size, you can have a taste bonanza!

Did we mention that there is a whole store that specializes in cod croquettes with cheese inside (pastel de bacalhau) and port? The store itself is pretty elegant, too. They were yummy and busy with other tourists trying them.

 

Back to the hotel to enjoy a quiet rest of the evening and a little CNN. Every day, the news is breaking, so we don’t want to be completely out of touch. Maybe that isn’t such a good idea!

Day 6 – Cork Factory and Evora

We arrived last night and checked into our hotel tired from a long day of travel. After breakfast, the sun finally came out. We headed to the cork factory, where the harvested cork is made into a variety of items. The cork is on the outside of the bark on the tree. It is dead, like nails or hair, so removing the cork doesn’t kill the tree, as would happen if the bark itself was removed. The factory is surrounded by cork trees, but they actually own only one tree, 85 years old, to explain the process. All the rest of the cork is purchased from local farmers.
There are various qualities of cork. The same tree may have different qualities of cork, depending on where it is located on the tree. Sunnyside, shady side, upper, lower parts make a difference. The usage of the cork depends on the quality. The denser the cork, the finer the quality. Wine corks use the highest quality with the grain because the cork must allow the wine to breathe. Champagne corks are cut against the grain because you don’t want any air getting into the bottle. There are many uses don’t require the highest quality, allowing 100% of the cork to be usable in some fashion.
The harvested cork is boiled for one hour and pressed down, or else it would float in the vat. It is separated into qualities and then is boiled again to make it flexible. They make corks for wine and champagne, of course, purses, shoes, aprons, coasters, trivets, belts, lamps and even furniture. What doesn’t get used immediately is ultimately compressed for flooring or other uses or ground into various size pellets for insulation. The gift shop had many choices of items made of cork, including hats, shoes, purses, belts, iPad covers, placemats and so much more. You see them all over Portugal at various prices.
From there, we went into the Roman walled city of Evora, practically across the road from our hotel. It does remind you of the medinas in Spain and Morocco, most likely because of its proximity to both countries. We went into the main church, which dates back to the 16th century. The opulence was astounding.
Next door is the Chapel of Bones. Every inch of the walls and columns were covered with bones or skulls. It was quite eery.

As you walk around Evora, you see the beautiful sidewalks. They are everywhere in Portugal. They are like cobblestones, only smoother. I wonder if they are slippery in the rain?

Time for lunch… We had to try the local delicacy, the black pork. We went to a recommended restaurant and shared a dish of black pork cheeks with roasted new potatoes and a Mediterranean salad, complete with asparagus, mozzarella and tomatoes, shredded carrots and baby lettuce. The meat was dark but incredibly tender to cut and eat. The pigs are only fed chestnuts. We aren’t sure why the meat is dark and melts in our mouth, though. Maybe it is the chestnuts?

After lunch, we went to a local winery for a tasting. This area, Estremoz, is just outside of Evora. There are many wineries growing a variety of grapes for red, rose and white wine. The harvesting was completed in early September but I tasted one last fat grape on the vine. It was very sweet.

They gave us a tour of the facility, showing us where the grapes are crushed and fermented, aged in French oak casks and bottled. After the tour, we went into a lovely tasting room. In Portugal, they say it is important to have food with wine. They had some chicken croquettes, a couple different salamis, cheese, and crusty bread. The white and rose were okay, however, the red was the best of the three.
Now, back to the hotel in Evora. We had some time to continue souvenir shopping, but I think I am running out of interesting things to buy. Hard to believe! A good night’s sleep and tomorrow, we are off to Lisbon.

Day 5 – Tomar, Fatima, and Marvao

This will be quite a long day. We left Lisbon for Tomar, built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. This castle is known for some very special details. Like all the castles in Europe, they are fortresses, always at the top of the mountain overlooking the town.

Because this castle was also a monastery, it has a cloister for contemplation, with bedrooms off in the hallways. These special tiles have a 3D effect as you go into the refectory (dining room).

They also have chapels that are works of art. This castle is no different. The painted details are spectacular. The chapel is different, as it is an octagon, with beautiful views everywhere you look.

I couldn’t help taking this picture of a darling sleeping little girl. I guess she wasn’t really into the castle or the chapel.

Off we went to Fatima. This day is unique, as it is the day for motorcyclists to receive the Blessing of the Helmet. This may sound odd but you can’t imagine how many motorcycles and people were in Fatima for this blessing. The open area of the church (built in the 1950s) to receive the blessing.

The stores specialized in religious articles of every kind, including life-sized versions of the saints and the Virgin Mary. I can’t imagine where you would put these in your home but they are a little scary – sorry!

The kiosks also carry wax legs, arms, torsos, babies and more, which are supposed to represent parts that are in need of healing or prayers. The babies represent those that are ill or have died. Candles are purchased and there was a long line to walk by large wood-fired ovens to throw the candles and wax body parts into the fire. We never got a definitive answer as to why this is done but rest assured that the lines were very long and after, there were many people in tears.

Kebab Salad
Garlic Bread

We took a break for lunch before the crowds filled the restaurants after receiving their blessing. I ordered the kebab salad and Jim ordered garlic bread, based on the recommendation of the waitress. Both were exceptional, especially the garlic bread. A keeper!

Time to move on to Marvao, another fortress castle practically on the border of Portugal and Spain, visible from each side of the mountain. Although never breached, it stands as a symbol of how towns protected themselves. There isn’t much left to see of the castle, other than its proximity to Spain.

We are all looking forward for a couple of days in Evora.

 

 

 

 

Day 4 – Coimbra

University of Coimbra

The next morning, the weather wasn’t very cooperative. It started out very overcast and devolved into a rainy morning. Coimbra is a good-sized city, mainly known for the University of Coimbra. Housed in part in an old castle, the schools of medicine, law, literature, and other disciplines are in very WPA-looking buildings from the 1940s. The new students (male and female) wear black suits and long capes, reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School.

Our first stop was to the chapel in the old castle at the university. Although unused for regular services, it is rented for weddings and special religious events. The wall tiles are spectacular. The gold detailing is impressive and the organ is one of the oldest and largest still in operation.

From there, we went to the castle’s library. The books are from as old as the 12th century. The main room is three stories tall, with intricate wood carvings and Chinoise decoration in gold paint. The relationship between Portugal and China was very close when the library was built hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any photos. The books, however, may be borrowed or used under special circumstances, like writing a book or for a Ph.D. thesis. In any case, they are also digitized in the university’s main library for everyone to see and use.

By this time, the rain made its appearance in earnest. We had hoped to walk together down the winding streets to the central part of town. However, the flat cobblestone sidewalks can be slippery, so we all went down on the bus.

Now, it was time for lunch. Some folks went back to the hotel to rest, some to the Centro area, and some, including us, to the nearby mall. We knew we could find something for lunch there.

My main goal was to visit Primark, a discount department store I enjoyed in Madrid. This location was much smaller (Madrid’s location was five stories tall). It is a crazy place but very trendy and incredibly inexpensive. What can I say? It is in my DNA! I returned to the hotel with a bagful of various clothes and assorted other goodies. Good thing that I have plenty of room in my bag. No photos needed!

After a short rest, we went back to Il Tartufo for another great meal. Sadly, it didn’t live up to last night’s level. We just chose items that didn’t measure up. Once back at the hotel, we ran into a few members of our group enjoying some port, the special fortified wine of Portugal. We are now converted port drinkers. We slept well that night.