Since mid November we have been in Portugal. This is where we headed when leaving Paris. During our week in Paris the terrorist attacks occurred which closed all tourist sites for half of our stay. Coming to Portugal seemed pretty secure, off the terrorist radar and a spot with mild weather to begin our European winter.
So where, exactly is Portugal, you ask? It’s just to the left of Spain if you look at a map. Specifically, Portugal is bordered on the north and east by Spain and on the south and west by the Atlantic Ocean. This makes it the farthest point west in Europe. Just google ‘map of Southern Europe’ and you’ll get a good picture of where Portugal is situated. It’s quite a small country and doesn’t seem to have much impact on the World political stage.
Portugal is primarily a Catholic country and has a strong family focus. Their language is distinct from Spanish, however, some words look similar. The sound of the language is very different. The s in words sounds like sh. As do the ‘x’s’ and the c’s with a little tail. The Portuguese also skip over vowel sounds. So, when you listen to conversations, it’s truly difficult to make out anything that sounds familiar. There is so much sh sound. Initially I thought people were speaking Russian or some Slovic language. Lucky for us, many people speak at least some English. The few TV channels are mostly in English with Portuguese subtitles.
Our first few days were spent in the capital city of Lisbon, known as Lisboa to the Portuguese. This is a very cosmopolitan city set along the Tejo River that empties into the Atlantic. It was pretty cool thinking this is where many of the explorers of old began their journeys.
While in Lisbon we also learned about Fado. Fado is a Portuguese form of music that is mournful and soulful, often about the sea or the life of the poor. It sounds very much like Portuguese soul music bordering on classical at times.
The week before my birthday I went to the Monchique Termal Spa with a friend from South Carolina who we met here. It was interesting, one treatment was to get sprayed from the neck down with a fire hose, back, side, front, side, repeat. Another was sitting in a plastic container that covered your lower body and having water jets rotating onto different parts of your lower body. They have natural spring water with a special mineral content that supposedly cures what ails you or just feels good. Susan and I also added in a nice 12 km hike up a mountain. It was a special experience for turning 65.
Monchique Spa, the pools weren’t heated but there was an indoor pool, sauna, steam room, and relaxation room.
On my actual birthday we visited a small town east of us that straddles the Rio Galao, Tavira. At one time this was the largest town in The Algarve. It’s quite lovely and quaint with several monuments and Renaissance architecture.
We’ve also traveled west from our home base of Faro to the west end of Europe, Cape Sao Vincente and the town of Sagres. Henry the Navigator’s school for explorers was at Sagres. Cape St Vincent is actually the most southwest point of Europe and consists of a lighthouse over looking these huge cliffs.
Sagres is the town furthest west. This entire area is bordered by huge cliffs that drop into the ocean. There are several beaches that are very popular with surfers and windsurfers. Along the cliffs the local guys fish with rod and reel. It’s crazy to see them cast out over the cliff and reel in an 8″ fish. Poor fish is probably dead by the time it reaches the top of the cliff. We were told about 5-6 fishermen are lost each year getting too close to the edge of the cliffs.
There have been other adventures through the Algarve but I’ll spare you the details. Portugal is a somewhat poor country that reminds us of Mexico. The cost of living is similar to Mexico. The Portuguese make great wine (reds, whites and ports), olive oil and harvest salt from the sea. Other main products are fishing, cork and textiles. We’ve had lots of good fish meals. Typically everything is also served with boiled potatoes or French fries. Smoked cod, although not from here, is a main staple of the local diet. This is a hold-over from when ships went to sea and salt cod was a long lasting staple.
The lifestyle here is laid back and family focused. We’ve really enjoyed our stay here. This would be a good place to land for awhile if it weren’t so far from the Pacific Northwest. Even phone calls are tough when 8 hours separates you.
Monday we head back to France for a week to finish our VISA process. After that we head to Spain. Thanks to all of you for following our travels.
Be fully present wherever you are. I am here.