Portugal Summary

So, how was the trip? Many friends told us how much they loved Portugal. Our expectations were high. While we could have done most of the trip on our own, being on a tour with a guide who is a fount of knowledge, having hotels booked, luggage handled, and transportation between all the sights makes travel very easy. The only downside this trip was that the group was pretty large, 23 folks.

We have been spoiled in the past because our previous Smartours trips were 7, 9 and 18 travelers and we found that everyone really jelled well. This time, there were 18 women and only 5 men and some came in groups together. They pretty much stayed together, so it left others on the outside. We didn’t mind much, as we love to be together as a couple. We entertain each other very well.

The discussion on the way back to Lisbon after seeing the Algarve was whether we would do another Smartours trip. Although we have a trip booked in May to Japan, it isn’t with this company. However, we would definitely consider another Smartours journey, especially if it isn’t too large of a group. Here’s hoping…

As for Portugal itself, it was enjoyable but not the wow we were hoping for, despite the raves from many friends. The history of Portugal is tied closely with the Catholic church. After we saw our umpteenth church, monastery, and convent, we wanted to see more. We did like the architecture, the design of the sidewalks, and the people. The typical Portuguese food was just okay. The port and beer were fabulous and definitely saved the food. When we had other cuisines, we definitely enjoyed them more. All in all, it was a good trip, just not steller!

I hope that you have enjoyed reading my blog. I really do it to remind us of where we have been and what we have done. If others want to travel with us vicariously, that is great, too. Thanks for your comments. Until the next time…

Day 16 – Lisbon to Madrid to Mexico City

We said goodbye to our host, Kies, and got on the road to Lisbon, about 2-1/2 hours away. The Algarve is always sunny, according to the people there, with only 30 days of rain a year. And yet, it is very green most of the time thanks to excellent irrigation systems.

The hills are beautiful and the toll road is wide, well maintained and a pleasure to drive. Jim elected to have me drive the entire trip while in the Algarve and I enjoyed it. Our little FIAT 500 hardly used any gas (at about $6.00 EU/gallon), with only two fill-ups the whole week. and, we drove a lot. It is tiny, however. The cup holders in front couldn’t accommodate my travel mug (maybe an espresso cup?) so I used the one in the back and it just about fit.

As we cruised at 140 kph, we were being passed by cars that zipped by in a flash. They had to be going at least 160 or more. Were we on the German Autoban??

We arrived at the airport, turned in the car and then had to wait almost two hours for someone to come to the Iberia desk to check in our luggage. At the Lisbon airport, there is almost nothing to eat and it is probably one of the ugliest airports. When it was built, it was far outside the city of Lisbon. Now, it is practically in the center of the city, only 20 minutes away. If you can avoid going to Lisbon’s airport, all the better. There is talk of building another airport, far outside of the city but with finances an issue, it may not happen for quite some time.

The one hour flight to Madrid (which is one hour ahead), gave us another four hours until our next flight to Mexico City. The difference in airports is striking. Madrid airport has a plethora of eating choices and the shopping is amazing. I know you will not believe me but I am totally shopped out! We each have some Euros left and won’t be using them any time soon. Maybe we should spend some? Instead, we had dinner and will see if anyone traveling to Europe in the near future needs Euros before they leave.

The flight from Madrid to Mexico City was the least enjoyable of any flights in recent memory. We thought that the American flight to Madrid from Houston was bad, with some of the worst food ever. However, we had a whole row of three seats to ourselves and could lay down to sleep, thankfully. The Iberia flight on the return trip (partners with American) was ten times worse.

We had two of the four seats in row 48 in the center, aisle and next. That wasn’t too horrible. The row in front of us practically hit our knees when the seatbacks were upright. When they reclined, the video entertainment screen was inches from our faces. That was not the worst part, at least for me.

After a duplicate dinner as the one on American (just awful), Jim took a sleeping pill and was out almost immediately, snoring. The man next to me had a girlfriend in the seat in front of him that he had to pet and touch endlessly while leaning over taking up my space. When he finally fell asleep, his leg twitched and hit my leg the whole time, not to mention taking up the entire armrest! So, for 10-1/2 hours, no sleep for me. Traveling in coach is getting worse and worser! One of these days, we will be able to upgrade. Until then, more travel and less comfort.

Okay, next issue… We were not able to get our boarding pass for the flight from Mexico City to Guadalajara because although it was an Iberia flight, it was operated by Interjet, an excellent Mexican airline. With only a little over 2 hours in Mexico City and long lines at immigration, we were able to ask folks to let us get in front because of the limited window of time. They were very accommodating.

Getting our bags to transfer them to the flight to Guadalajara wasn’t difficult, just time-consuming. Next, we had to go to the Interjet counter in the domestic part of the airport to get the boarding pass. The confirmation number wasn’t recognized. We were told we had to go to the Iberia counter in the international part of the airport, at least a kilometer away, with limited time left. So, we huffed and puffed to get from domestic to international desks.

Once there, no one was manning the Iberia counter. With a stroke of luck, there was an Interjet office nearby and they found our reservation, gave us good seats and a boarding pass. Of course, we had to go back to the domestic departure area, another kilometer away, to board that flight. We missed our original flight at 6:40 AM but got on the 8:00 AM flight. The Interjet planes are spacious, flight attendants helpful and you actually get a full bottle of drinks at no charge!

We were ready to be home, especially after the debacle in Mexico City. As much as I thought a long, drawn-out trip might be interesting, I am now in agreement with Jim that 2-3 weeks is plenty. We miss our house, our dog and our routine. The next travels will be a week at the beach in November and a week in Phoenix to celebrate my uncle’s 100th birthday and aunt’s 90th. It definitely will be a celebration. No blog for those trips but next May – Japan!

Day 15 – Portimao and the Kloegman’s

This was a good day to visit Portimao (Port-ee-mau). From the highway, it looks huge, compared to some of the other towns nearby. Maybe it is because everything is painted white and it just glows! After parking the car in a free lot and paying an “attendant” $3 EU to watch the car, we had breakfast at about the only place open. It was near the marina, convenient, and obviously very popular because it was packed.

Afterward, we walked along the marina, where kiosks were trying to get people to go out on the boat trips to see the caves and grottos. Since we did that in Albufeira, we kept on walking. Besides, we had lunch plans with former Ajijic friends who now live in the Algarve and only had a couple of hours to kill.

At the end of the marina, there was a sign that we could go out on a boat for an hour to see more of the town. Pedro, our guide and “captain” was a sweetheart and showed us the now-empty monastery, a castle formerly owned by a princess with its own beach, called the Princess Beach (duh!).

There was another castle that is now owned by a billionaire (don’t know from where) but this huge residence has hosted members of the English royal family, monarchs, and heads of state from various European countries. when the castle is occupied, their flag is flying. (You can see the flagpole if you look closely.) I thought this would be a perfect invitation to robbers, knowing whether someone was at home to rob the place! Pedro got a kick out of that.

The Arade River divides Portimao from Ferragudo, a small town where most of the fishermen live. It isn’t a tourist area and they unload and process their sardine haul there. They go out around 2:00 AM to begin fishing, returning in the early afternoon. This will end soon, as they are near their quota of fish. They adhere to the rules so they don’t overfish.

Most of the buildings on the Portimao side of the river near the harbor are brand new. There are lots of condos and high rise buildings. In the closed-in marina, there were huge yachts and a vintage four-mast schooner that still operates, although mainly for special events. The pirate ship that we saw earlier and takes people to see the caves was also in the marina area. We were able to see it close up. No pirates that we could see!

 

If you notice the sea wall in front of the condos and high rise buildings, there is a black line. That marks how much higher the water is at high tide. We were there at low tide and the difference is three meters or about ten feet.

 

We also saw a small sailboat called “Helena” London. Interestingly, we saw a yacht in Marbella, Spain called “Helena” also from London. Obviously, I am very popular or I have a secret stash of boats all around Europe.

After our one hour with Pedro, we used the GPS to find Deborah and Paul Kloegman’s house in Silves (Sil-vesh) about 15 minutes away. They lived in Ajijic for several years and, among other things, were very involved in our local theater. Paul directed and acted and Deborah, a former Canadian Supreme Court judge, is an amazing actor and was in plays at our local theater in Ajijic.

They travel quite a bit from their base and hope to be back in Mexico again next year (with Paul possibly directing another play). Lunch was grilled sausages, hamburgers, a delicious salad and pastel de nata for dessert. We had a very enjoyable time with them.

We made our way back to our villa room and I tried to get caught up with my blog, while Jim relaxed. Since we were pretty full from lunch, dinner time came and went without a meal. I remembered that we had two eggs and some cheese left from our supermarket shopping earlier in the week. So, how do you cook the egg without a stove? Easy! You put the egg in a coffee cup and add boiling water from the hot pot. I changed the water several times to see if I could soft or hard boil the egg. Finally, it was time… I cut open the shell and the yolk was hard, while the white was runny! Whaaaat? Oh well, we ate it anyway. Obviously, I was never a Girl Scout or went camping!

Tomorrow, we leave Portugal after two and a half weeks of travel. Our flight isn’t until 4:45 PM but we will drive up to Lisbon from the Algarve at 10:00 AM, stopping for breakfast along the way. It should be an easy trip back, going from Lisbon to Mexico City, then Guadalajara.

 

Day 14 – Sagres, Lagos and Alvor

We drove east to see the towns near Spain when we arrived in the Algarve, so we decided to go west to Sagres. It is located at the very bottom southwest tip of Portugal and a very pivotal location to ward off invaders. The Sagres Promontory is a huge fort with cannons and a lighthouse to guide the sailors around the point while keeping invaders from attacking the country.

The wind was sharp, whipping around us but at least it was a warm wind. As you walk to the edge of the rocks approaching the fort, you wonder if anyone could actually invade this place. We walked all around the point, reading the signs describing how this is a bird and plant sanctuary, with unique species of both inhabiting the rocks. Unfortunately, we saw neither the birds nor most of the unique plants native to this area.

Just to the north of the point, there is a beach below, with waves that are supposed to be a surfer’s paradise. We saw many young folks with their surfboards ready to take the plunge. They have to wear a heavy wetsuit, as the water is not only choppy but quite cold. Today, the waves weren’t too big, so they had to wait and wait for just the right wave.

Time to move on to Lagos, the next largish town east of Sagres. It was a pretty unremarkable place so the stop was pretty quick. We realized that our GPS had disappeared, so we stopped into a little place with WiFi to get online. The waiter was pretty funny. He knew exactly why we stopped in. We ordered a couple of beers and he brought us two mugs. Haha, they were the size of shots! The real mugs came soon after but we got a good laugh.

The next town was Alvor. Friends from Ajijic said they stayed there and loved it, which made it even more enticing to visit. We immediately found it to be charming, inviting and definitely a place to have dinner.

Of course, there were narrow streets and beautiful balconied buildings but there was music in the square, a merry-go-round, many restaurants, and some interesting shops that didn’t sell souvenirs. The beach was small, mainly unused. However, it was late in the day and the water had to be like ice cubes.

After scouting out the zillions of restaurants, we decided to go to one that had a mixed grill of chicken, lamb, black pork and beef to share, plus salad and veggies. Good thing we were hungry! It was very tasty and a good end to the day.