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Trip Report From Evora to Tavira: A Week of Wildflowers

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Friday, April 29th: Out of Lisbon and into….

After our stay in Lisbon it was time to head out and see more of the country. Phase B of the trip included a weeklong road trip making our way south from Evora to Tavira.

The start was not quite auspicious. We tried to hail a taxi close to our apartment so that we could go to the airport and get the rental car. They drove by but would not take us! Finally a taxi stops and we had a most pleasant chat along the way. As we approach the airport other taxi drivers start cussing at him. Suddenly I remembered a sign I had seen on a cab the week before. They were on strike! Uber is in the process of entering Portugal and all taxi drivers were having a demonstration.

The guy charged us 7E for the trip (as opposed to the first ride which scalped us for 37E!). He could have charged whatever he wanted because he was breaking the strike and there were no cabs to be had anywhere in Lisbon. We got really, really lucky because getting to the airport from where we were would have involved a bus ride and two metro changes carrying all of our luggage. Manageable but certainly not desirable.

So we go and get in line for the EuropCar rental car (actually they handed out numbers) with our voucher in hand but we still had to queue along with all the desperate people trying to get a last minute rental. The line for the Aerobus was beyond belief and people were trying to actually walk out of the airport. I don’t know if the metro was also on strike.

Finally our turn comes and it still takes forever to get the papers so that we can go to the parkhouse and get the car (this will become important in a few minutes). After the guy goes over every single item on the contract with DH, twice over, we get the papers and make a beeline to get the car. Tick toc, tick toc, tick toc.

In the parkhouse, we find the place and sure enough, another long queue of very unhappy and displeased people (ha!). We finally get our keys and are in the process of inspecting when we realize that the noise level outside the parking was increasing. Sirens and horn blowing everywhere. Yup. The actual ‘stopping’ part of the strike had started.

We made it as far as the exit ramp, with maybe 15 cars ahead of us before everything came to a screeching halt. Hundreds (very possibly thousands) of taxi drivers stopped their cabs in protest against Uber and paralyzed the airport. After a while people just turned the cars off, got out and looked on in total dismay and growing outrage.

It is funny (not really) to see cultural differences on how people react to this kind of situation. I’m Puertorican, we get angry but then we just accept these things; DH is Swiss but has lived enough in PR to just go with the flow (on most occasions). But the Nordic folks in front and behind us in the parking exit were just about to have an apoplexy.

About 45minutes into the stoppage, the EuropCar lady comes along and tells everyone that they can just lock the cars where they were (in the exit ramp!) and go for lunch as they were expecting the blockade to last for at least another 2 hours. Luckily no one in front of us took her word because ‘only’ an hour later the protest moved to downtown Lisbon and we were ready to go.

Our first destination for the day was Sesimbra. It felt wonderful to be out of Lisbon and into the open road! We just love driving trips. Well… I love planning them, I navigate (rather well most of the time) but I don’t drive stick shift so all the driving is done by DH. He does not mind driving a few hours through hairpin turns (most of the time) as long as the views are nice.

The delay in Lisbon meant that the town-visiting part of this day was cut out, so we just drove into the Sesimbra village by the water and then back up to visit the very nice castle on top. This is a very easy and fairly worthwhile daytrip from Lisbon for anyone with a car.

One of my favorite sources for the crazy drives I come up with is the Michelin Green Guide along with its companion map, and it so happened that the drive through Serra da Arrábida was highlighted. This turned out to be what we call a ‘good value’ drive: excellent views with fairly easy driving. The sights onto Sétubal and the Península de Tróia was remarkable. Overall, highly recommended. We opted to bypass the town of Sétubal as it was getting late and we wanted to start making our way to our destination for the night.

The drive to Evora took just over an hour and was surprisingly pretty considering that is all highway. Or maybe we were just happy to enjoy the open countryside and be out of the city. But the cable towers were all crowned with stork nests (with babies!) and the rolling hills were dotted with yellow wildflowers.

I had selected Hotel Moov for several reasons: location (within the old town but close the entry road), excellent price and great reviews in Booking.com and Trip Advisor. Very minimalistic and basic but is suited our needs perfectly. We are not really resort people, so our demands are not really high.

http://hotelmoov.com/es/hoteis/hotel-moov-evora-es/

I had neglected to make a parking reservation and their garage was full so we had to park outside the wall for the first two nights. On the third night we moved it back to the hotel for easier departure.

We checked in and took off to explore the city. The Praça do Giraldo was lively on this Friday afternoon and most of the outside tables were occupied so we continued our walk past the Cathedral and the Templo de Diana before we sat down in a small place to have a little bite to eat (ohhhh….those wonderful Portuguese savory pastries are going to be the end of me!!!!) and soft drinks. We were still taking it easy after our almost week-long bout of either food poisoning or just a viral stomach bug.

Having pre-treated our bellies we were now ready to head out to where we really wanted to be; back to the Giraldo where we plunked down on a table and spent the rest of the afternoon sipping wine and people watching (under a heater, it was still cold!).

We were just loving the quaint and cozy feel of Evora. Maybe we are just not big city people…

Eventually we set out to find a place for dinner, DH took a liking to a little place and since it started raining the decision was almost made for us. We sat inside Docas Gourmet and there were some locals there but in hindsight they might have just gathered there to watch the big soccer game, everyone else eating in the restaurant were tourists. Not a great sign. DH had a Secreto de Porço (this is a wonderful lengthwise cut of pork loin that is butterflied to make a steak) with homemade chips (he asked for a second helping) and I had the Porço a la Alentjana (Pork stewed with clams) served with roasted potatoes.

I cannot say that it was bad, it was good but it was tourist fare. No big flavors in here. However, given the still-sensitive state of our bellies, this might have actually been a good thing for us. Maybe if only DH had not had that second helping of chips…

Next: The Highlight of our Stay in Evora

Anyone interested to read in obnoxious details about our Lisbon Stay, this is the TR link:

http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/lazing-it-in-lisbon-notes-and-rambling-thoughts-from-and-extended-stay.cfm

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    Bilbo, that is so funny, I must be channeling a friend of mine. The first time he went to Spain he asked what those big birds were, when he was told they were storks he would just not believe them. He thought storks were mythical (as in bringing the babies), sort of like Santa Claus. And THAT, in a nutshell is the reason everyone should travel, lol!


    Thursday, there was no big new crisis but he just did not feel well for at least 3 more days and did not enjoy his meals as much as he could have.

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    Saturday, April 30th: : Ancient Evora

    I had read in multiple TR’s that in order to enjoy (or even understand) the megalithic sites around Evora, having a guide was crucial. In those searches the same company kept coming up: Ebora Megalithica.

    It wasn’t pouring rain, so I decided to give them a call. I lucked out big time as it turned out that they had only 2 spaces left in the morning tour (which we still had time to make it) and they would not have a tour in the afternoon for personal reasons. No tours on Sunday. So it was that or not doing it at all.

    We had to hustle a little but had enough time to have a light breakfast in café St. Humberto before meeting Mario in front of the Tourist office. Had a spinach puff pastry that was absolutely to die for. Coffee wasn’t bad either.

    Oh, that’s right, we have not talked about the ordering of coffee! There must be a chart somewhere depicting the 1,000 variations of coffee in Portugal, but we missed it and had to find our way through trial and error. For me a regular ‘café con leite’ or even a ‘cappuccino’ in the morning yielded good enough results though sometimes I had to have two to have enough to drink (we are NOT Starbucks ‘mega – extra large – lungo – whatever - double’ kind of people but we like a strong coffee in the morning and it should be mug sized not ‘café’ cup size).

    DH struggled. He asked what people had ordered when he thought he might like it but he never quite got what he wanted. An Americano? No. A ‘café normal’? No. Well, to make a long story short(ish) we finally found out about the ‘Galão’. This is typically made with at least half a large cup (or tall glass) of milk and the rest filled with coffee. We also found that if we asked for it to be ‘dark’ it turned out just about perfect for us.

    The post-dinner coffees were much easier. All waiters understood the Spanish term ‘cortadito’ where you have a demitasse size cup filled with not quite two good sips of coffee and ‘cut’ with a little squirt of milk. This is also known (as we found out) as a ‘Pingado’ in Portuguese.

    But back to Evora and Mario….I will just go ahead and say it: Do this! We enjoyed this tour in so many ways. First, it is absolutely true: there is no signage whatsoever in any of the three main sites so you are on your own here with whatever guidebook you have (which of course, will only vaguely mention the existence of these sites). Then, Mario is just a gem of a kid. Him mom must be proud (gasp, I’m getting old, coming up with these thoughts!).

    He is a trained archaeologist and scholar. His family was in Mozambique (former Portuguese colony) for a long time before returning to Portugal a generation ago and Mario is just in love with the Homeland. His passion for these sites just exudes from his skin. Glittery eyes and everything. When one is confronted with such enthusiasm one cannot help but to be caught up a little in the passion. But the bottomline is that he is a GREAT conversationalist. And that is a rare thing nowadays.

    You can google all the technical descriptions and historical significance of the Chromlech of Almendres but I will tell you that Mario made it ‘come alive’ and I only place that between quotes because that is usually a big catch phrase. It wasn’t. He did.

    http://eboramegalithica.com/

    But even before arriving to the first site we were entranced. The wildflowers. OMG. The WILDFLOWERS! We drove through groves of cork trees and all the gently rolling hills were just carpeted in yellow flowers with occasional spots of bright red poppies, splurges of purple and little white daisies. Even with zero interest in Neolithic sites, anyone with an appreciation for natural beauty would have loved this drive. –Insert here a silly number of superlatives!!!

    If this is what we had to endure that almost solid month of rain is Lisbon for? It was worth it (well… almost).

    The tour then moved on to the Menir de Almendres, a single standing stone. It was a bit of a walk and some of the less fit members of the tour were huffing and puffing a little. But again, the walk to the Menir was a joy of wildflowers and olive trees in bloom. (Important note: remember to take your allergy medication when flower season is in full swing!!!)

    The last site in the tour was the impressive Dolmen of Zambujeiro. One of those places in which well-intentioned archaeologists/discoverers basically contributed to its eventual destruction with their restoration efforts. Mario urged all the tour members to make a written complaint to the municipality of Evora and try to get protection for the site.

    And the dolmen is located in yet another spectacular setting! Superlatives. Superlatives. Superlatives.

    We came back to Evora at almost 2:00pm and we happily headed straight to the Giraldo restaurant for a few relaxing drinks. Once we had been adequately restored (we will not debate the hydrating properties of distilled alcohol here), we went over for a visit to the Catedral de Evora and the associated Museu de Arte Sacra, both very worthwhile stops. Highly recommended.

    A short walk away was the roman ruin of the Temple of Diana which is best observed from the kiosk across the street on a nice afternoon with an iced coffee in hand.

    We had learned that Mario had opened up a restaurant in town with some friends so we decided to further show our appreciation and looked out for it. Pateo is one of those places that you almost have to know that is there or you might miss it.

    There is a small sign in one of the touristic/pedestrian streets of town. You don’t really see anything, unless you walk a few meters through a gate and up a few steps. Suddenly you find yourself in a magical open patio, with tables set under fruit trees, well and everything. The original Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack (one of my all time faves!) was playing on the speakers. It was the perfect spot on a warm-enough and dry-enough evening under the stars.

    About the food, I will say it was good. Not outstanding but good. Better than the night before but still short of excellent. The kitchen needs to get its act together and in time with the waiters. There was a lot of back and forth of plates between them. But do I recommend this place? YES. Decent food, good service and superb ambiance. We even went back the next night, though only for drinks.

    We happily made our way back to the hotel, thinking about a nice long driving tour for the next day.

    The Lost Chapel and The Road Trip that Never Happened

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    Sunday, 1st of May

    We lazied a bit around this morning but finally we had to give it up and go for coffee before withdrawal symptoms started kicking in. Breakfast was in the semi-chaotic Café Arcada along with every other senior lady in Evora that had just attended mass. I just loved seeing the all dressed up and hanging out with the girlfriends.

    This is a self-service coffee house and one must order at the bar and then wait around until your order is called. An industrial engineering 2nd year student (or basically anyone with common sense) would reorganize the flow of people with 95% efficiency increase in just under two minutes. As it is, you can entertain yourself by observing the original 1960’s décor (which is almost fashionable again by now) while avoiding being trampled by disgusted old ladies which obviously think you are an idiot for not knowing how the whole thing works.

    DH had his coffee and toast and I had (coffee, obviously) a chicken pastry and the local specialty ‘Quijada’. These little sweet pastries are the result of the marriage between the Pastel de Nata and a NY Cheesecake, resulting in a spongier texture with more bite into it than the creamy pasteis. Honestly? I actually preferred the Queijada.

    The plan for the day was to follow the Michelin ‘Green Roads’ into the countryside and visit the town of Estremoz but before that, I wanted to go to the Church of Sao Francisco to see the Bone Chapel that we had missed the day before…. And this is where I made a rookie mistake!

    I had directions to go to this place, but I -TOLD- DH that I wanted to go to the Sao Francisco church where we had been the day before, ‘the one just by the University’. Anyone familiar with the area is now mentally screaming ‘Noooooo!!!!’. Of course he proposed a shorter route.

    To make a long story short, there are TWO Sao Francisco churches in Evora, one by the University and the other one (which we had walked by before!) not more than 200m from our hotel. We had a bit of a Death March (the 5K version, not the Ultramarathon) around the walls of Evora (hey…additional sight seeing, right?) and a return to the hotel to regroup before I realized what had happened. So, boys and girls, the Travel Lesson here is: Never go ONLY by the name of the church (and this is not only applicable to the ones called any variation of ‘St. Mary’).

    We did make it to visit the very nice Igreja de São Francisco and then –finally- went into the Capela dos Ossos. The ticket here is combined with a visit to their (humongous) collection of Nativity sets (including some very weird ones) and the chance to step out into the terrace over the churches portico for a nice view. .

    ‘We, the bones in here, for yours, await’ is written over the entrance to the bone chapel, it is meant as a reminder of the temporality of life The space is quite different from the one in Rome which is tiny and basically a line of prayer cells (this bone obsession seems to be a Capuccin/Franciscan thing). The one in Evora was the congregation’s Chapterhouse, it is very big and the wide vaulting arches make it look almost ‘airy’ (this is also helped by the renovation’s dramatic light effects). It makes for awesome pictures.

    After the entire navigation –ahem- issues in the morning, by now it was almost 1:00pm. So we headed out of the church in need of a drink and spotted an empty table outside Restaurante Repas. Our very innocent intention at the time was to have a refreshing beverage of the non-alcoholic kind and hightail out of Evora so that we could resume our (well, mine) plan to go visit Estremoz in the afternoon.

    It did not work that way. As we got our drinks (first failure: we ordered beers) we saw that all the tables were full by now and people, local people, were queueing for a chance to get one. Hummm….maybe we were onto something here. DH has this knack for randomly finding great, nondescript restaurants (not fail proof, but he does find a few great ones!). And then one fragrant dish after another started coming out of the kitchen.

    Ok, a bottle of red wine and a plate to share of the roasted lamb (as per the waitress’ suggestion) naturally followed. By now the place was full to the rafters inside and every single chair available had been brought out to the outside so the older ladies could sit and wait. Turns out that it was Mother’s Day in Portugal so all the families were out.

    The young woman waitressing is one of our top finalists for our 2016 Waiter of the Year award (we pay attention to silly things). She singlehandedly took care of 16 outside tables, kept track of the waiting list, fended off the people trying to grab a table out the queue, and brought out dish after dish without a single detectable failure. All this smiling calmly and exuding tranquility. The Zen of Waitering.

    Not a single plate went back to the kitchen, so kudos to them too for putting them out correctly. The kids in Pateo need to come here and learn a thing or two about how a well-run kitchen works.

    Obviously the Estremoz plan had been given up by now. We just enjoyed the absolutely delicious and tender pieces of lamb that were presented to us like a gift from Heaven. We lingered a bit but opted to be nice and surrender our highly coveted table to the next party.

    We then moved over the kiosk across from the Templo de Diana to enjoy our coffees, under the beautiful blue sky, people watch, and relax the rest of the afternoon away. Who needs another road trip anyway?

    In the evening we went to Restaurante Alentejano, this was a recommendation from Mario the Archaeologist and we had made a reservation for 8:30 when we had walked by it in the afternoon. This turned out to be a good thing as the place was packed when we arrived, just our reserved table remained open.

    We were still somewhat full from lunch so we did not have any first courses and went straight to the entrées: I had ‘Arroz de Pato’ (rice with duck and topped with chouriço) and DH had the ‘Rabo con Batatas’ (Oxtail stew over potatoes). Both were delicious, but DH’s was better. He ate every last bite and suffered from overfull stomach the entire night.

    Next: The Costa Vicentina is what Portugal is all About

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    Marigross I'm so enjoying your report. My husband and I were in Portugal for just one week in March. I envy you your extended stay. We spent 3 nights in Evora and loved it. We also did the tour of the megaliths with Mario and totally agree - great experience. Mario's knowledge and enthusiasm make those old stones seem fascinating.

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    Marigross I'm also thoroughly enjoying your report. Glad to hear that you recovered from your stomach ailment and are enjoying Evora. We leave tomorrow for Lisbon and have made note of your recommendations. We also just booked the tour in Evora with Mario where we are headed after Lisbon.

    Thanks for providing your cat sitting arrangement. We are trying to figure that out for next year.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip!

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    Knowing Marigross, I am sure it will be quite a delight for her to fill us in and in great entertaining details about the rest of their long trip (lucky them). They must be taking in things as much as they can in this on-the-road portion of their sojourn.

    They are roughly 2 and a half months into their 3 month stay, so I somehow do not think it will be much longer before she has a chance to chime in. I sure hope the weather has continued to improve for them.

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    Monday, May 2nd: Winging-It Down the Coast

    We got a (relatively) early start and headed out to the coast. We did not have hotel reservations for the next two nights so that we could have all the freedom to advance or stay as we wished. But our general destination was to drive down the coast and stay somewhere in the vicinity of Zambujeira do Mar or Odeceixe.

    From A6 we took A2, and then IC6/A26 direction Sines. I have to say that Sines is a surprisingly pleasing town for having such a big port. Once we were south of the city we caught the Michelin “Dotted” Green road (the map legend says it indicates National Reserves / Semi Scenic), and we went into the Parque Nacional del Sudoeste Alentejano. Well, the wildflowers along the way made it one of the most beautiful drives of the trip! I had never seen vast fields of bright red poppies before! (just in pictures).

    A quick detour to Porto Covo (a.k.a. a wrong turn), revealed a sparkling white, spanking new, resort town which is way too sanitized for our taste, but the setting was still very nice. We continued on our way in the general direction of Odemira.

    In my ‘Perfect Vacation Redo’ (which of course would include perfect weather and no stomach bugs) I would cut two weeks out of Lisbon and just done day hikes along this area.

    We made it to Zambujeira do Mar just before lunchtime. We parked the car in an open lot and took a walk to see the waterfront. Wow. Wow! WOW!!!! The whitewashed town sits on top of a cliff overlooking an ample cove with a dreamy sandy beach at the bottom. The stuff that dreams and glossy travel magazines are made of. We gawked as we walked along the wall.

    It seemed to us that the entire town is being made ‘new’ for the summer: lampposts, garbage containers, benches…. All new and still wrapped in plastic covers. Access stairs to the beach? The new ones are almost finished. Driving down to the beach? New asphalt and roundabouts are done. It looks like the major is going to throw a heck of Town Re-Inauguration Party. Still, Zambujeira keeps its small town charm and does not look artificial because the older houses are still there; even if immaculately kept and recently renovated.

    They must have given out a humongous tax break so all residents got into the updating/renovating program.

    We found an open table under the sun (have I mentioned that it was gloriously sunny and warm enough to want to change into shorts?) in restaurant O Martinho. We ordered a plate of Arroz con Feijoa y Gambas (Rice with beans and prawn/big shrimp with head on); it was delicious. (Though DH hates to deal with unpeeled shellfish.)

    The decision point had been reached. Should we stay in town? I had read wonderful things about Odeceixe… should we continue on our way and spend the night there? But THIS was so…. Nice! And the sandy beach was calling our names… Well, in one of those Opraesque ‘Aha! Moments’, I realized that there was no reason to sacrifice the wonderfulness of the place we were in NOW to the eternal search for the next wonderful place. The true epiphany was the acceptance that we will NEVER SEE EVERYTHING. It was time to stop and smell the roses. We started looking for a place to sleep.

    The town was not in quite full swing this early in the season and hotels are not plenty. This is a location targeting vacation rentals and homestays. So DH just walked up to a house with an ‘AL’ sign on in (Alojamiento Local) and knocked on the door. Old lady comes out, we asked if she had rooms, she gestured (no English whatsoever) for us to follow to see the rooms, we asked how much (35€), we picked one and less than an hour later we were in our bathing suits, sunning on the beach.

    I cannot find words to accurately describe the joy of this moment. It was just perfect with the warm sand in our feet and our faces soaking in the much needed rays of sunlight. This was exactly the reason why one Travels.

    After a while the wind picked up and we got cold so we decided to go up the hill and resettle in a restaurant to continue our afternoon from a less drafty spot. Since we were sandy (though not wet, the water was freezing!) we headed back to our room to clean up before dinner.
    Monday night the dinning choices were limited so we wound up in the same place where we had had lunch. There was a queue at 8:00pm! Anyway, being the sensible and practical man DH is, he insisted that we seat inside, so we were able to score a table way before others ahead of us that were waiting for outside tables. I was a little disappointed but agreed to as he wished. The plus side was that we were securely seated in the tiny interior when the sun went down and the outside dinners wanted to move inside for warmth as the temperatures plummeted.

    During the afternoon we had observed a ‘local character’ (seemingly an expat British chap) doing what we will call an ‘interpretative dance’ with the yellow ‘caution’ tape that was still cordoning off some of the newly paved sidewalks to the sound of his blasting boom box. He had later joined a few parties in the outside of the restaurant to chat inoffensively enough. Well, he was still there with yet another group when we sat for dinner.

    I guess he had ordered something and he thought it was not delivered with the promptness other tables were being served. You could just see him working himself up to a tizzy. The husband/owner came out of the kitchen and started asking him to leave. Sadly it did come to full out screaming and eventually manhandling the guy out. The owner asked very calmly the guests to please not intervene as he was trying to get the man out of the restaurant. I got the impression that it might not have been the first time this thing had happened.

    Mental illness causes so much suffering. Devastating to the patient and to all around.

    Once the ‘episode’ was over, the owner/waitress just turned around and apologized to the customers and continued to serve in the exact same cordial and calm way, totally unfazed. Kudos to her, I don’t know if I could have pulled it off like that.

    It was a lovely meal in an incredibly beautiful setting. I was glad to have decided to stay. The smell of the roses was glorious.

    Next: The Cliffs of the Algarve

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    Really enjoying this. We have visited the Alentejo twice, and I love the old stones. Now you have me wanting to go back and take the tour you took of the neolithic sites.

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    Thanks to all for hanging around this long!

    Tuesday, May 3nd: The Magnificent Algarve

    The sun was shinning beautifully when we set out of the AL to find breakfast. We were liking this! For a second time we did not have a reservation for the night as I was uncertain about where we would wound up after our road trip. The options ranged from Sagres or Salema to Lagos.

    We loaded back into the car and took off into the Algarve through fields of bright red poppies and all kinds of yellow wildflowers. This region is still part of the Parque Natrual de Sudoeste Alentejano and then further south the protected area changes into the Costa Vicentina. Why driving (or hiking) through this area is not in everyone’s Bucket List is beyond my understanding (of course, given that they even know about it, as these areas seem not to be mentioned often in travel books or forums).

    When we passed by Odeceixe as we drove on N120, I knew that we had made the right choice by staying in Zambujeira the night before. It looked lovely with the big windmill crowning the hill, but I think the beach town better suited our mood.

    Our first ‘exploration detour’ for the day was the small road that led to Praia de Monte Clérigo. We knew we were onto something when we started spotting a lot of RV’s and campers set on the sandy plain by the river side. And then we came to the top of the hill to be completely rendered speechless by the beauty of the beach, with the river meeting the ocean after cutting through the last cliffs.

    There was a school of surfers heading out into the waves and the water was so clear they seemed to be floating on air as we saw their shadows reflected on the bottom. Along the beach there were big restaurants and maybe a small hotel or two, but I think this area is mostly frequented by daytrippers and campers.

    The second ‘exploration detour’ proved to be even more spectacular than the one before: We continued on N268 and took the small road to Carrapateira. These were the sights that I had envisioned when we had made The Portugal Decision. The reddish, rocky cliffs raising magnificently over the wild ocean…. Yes! This was the Portugal that I wanted.

    Again, in my imaginary Trip Redo I would have taken two weeks out of Lisbon and just hiked around the Rota Vicentina, as many other people seemed to be doing. There were hikers everywhere. Oh, and cyclists too! I have not mentioned them, but the area seems to be very biker-friendly. I saw all cars and trucks maintain at least the minimum distance when passing cyclists. So anyone looking for a great riding holiday I would point them in this direction. The terrain has rolling hills but just enough (I think!) to keep it interesting (of course the incline is only truly revealed when one is on foot or pedaling, lol).

    After making the Pontal loop, stopping at every viewpoint along the way, we continued on our way South. Eventually we made our way into Sagres but opted to go first into the Cabo de São Vicente, both destinations rated as ‘*** Highly Recommended’ by the Michelin Green Guide (my main travel source).

    I have to take a step back and talk about the importance of Sequence when one is exploring. It is difficult to be impressed by lesser works once one has seen the masterpiece. Roman ruins? Hard to be profoundly impressed with Ostia Antica once you have been to Pompeii and Herculano. Is it still worth the visit? YES! But expectations need to be curbed.

    Having said that, we had seen some spectacular landscapes throughout the day. So the cliffs around the lighthouse were beautiful, but for us they lacked the ‘Wow!’ factor we had experienced in the morning. On top of that you need to walk through a whole bunch or food trucks (‘Last Sausage Before America’) and trashy souvenir stands. So… was this a three star destination? Nahhh…. At least not for us.

    We went back to car and headed into Ponta de Sagres. We were later in the day so we were able to park almost by the entrance. DH looked skeptical, but I insisted we go in, after all… three star destination, right? Well… You know where this goes. I think that the site’s importance is more from a historical standpoint than from what actually remains in there.

    This was the location where Henry the Navigator founded the Sagres School of Navigation; where medieval scholars gathered as a Think Tank to create the technology that would open new worlds and pull Western civilization out of the Dark Ages. So the background story IS impressive, but the fact is that there is a nice fort entrance, a few ramparts and walls, a tiny church and a huge stone compass. That’s it.

    There is a walk around the site, which has some beautiful views from the top of the cliffs into town and to the cliffs further north. To walk this loop was over a mile, it was made borderline worthwhile to us for two reasons: the temperature was in the 60’s F (though very, very windy) and we got a chance to see all the crazy fishermen perched precariously on top of the cliffs while casting their lines into the ocean far below (and fighting the seagulls as they brought the catch up!). Would I want to do this on a very hot afternoon? Nope.

    So we decided it was time to head out and continue on our way. I had read about Salema on the Rick Steve’s guidebook, since I have agreed in the past with many of his recommendations, I wanted to check it out. The drive itself (down, down, down from the top of the cliffs to the ocean) was very nice but the town is small and it seemed that tourbuses and dozens of daytrippers were trying to maneuver through town at the same time. Let’s say that the approach was a little chaotic and parking was quite difficult to come by until we found an open field in a backlot.

    But once we settled we could see that the weather was still holding, the beachfront was pretty and it was getting later in the evening. So we decided to stay for the night. We tried to knock on several houses with the ‘AL’ sign but no one came to the answer. After a few failed attempts we just went into the bigger Hotel Residencial Salema and got a very comfortable room for 68€ with breakfast included.

    The wind was picking up but we still got into shorts for a lovely stroll along the beach and enjoyed a few glasses of wine at a beachfront restaurant. We did our pre-dinner restaurant scouting and made a reservation for later in the evening.

    Around 5:00pm older women started gathering by the beach front to offer rooms to rent for the night. But we were still happy with our hotel choice.

    Our dinner at Agua Na Boca was excellent. As in ‘we would have gone back if we had stayed a second night’ great. The service was extremely attentive without being intrusive. A lot of the patrons were obviously regulars and were greeted warmly by the staff.

    We shared a house salad to start and it was perfectly dressed and had a few pieces of really amazing cheese. The produce was only of the finest quality. When a salad makes you sigh with pleasure you now you can expect wonderful things to come.

    DH had for his dinner a rabbit stewed in red wine that was perfectly seasoned and tender. He was extremely pleased with his meal.

    I had a ‘Mariscada’, a light stew of prawns, octopus and clams that was finished at the table. Now, this is particularly difficult combination of seafood to get right because of their very different individual cooking times. It was perfect! Everything cooked to the right point and the flavor was simply exquisite. I believe I might have swooned a time or two over this dish.

    Since everything had been so good I broke my ‘no dessert’ custom (I save all my calories for wine!) and ordered a fig cake with almond ice cream. The fig cake was better described as a paste and was flambéed at the table. No way to make this brown cakey thing pretty, but boy! Was it good! Up to par with the rest of the meal.

    Overall, a great experience and the price was fair even if a tad high when compared with other meals we had had in Portugal.

    We happily waddled back to the hotel, serenaded by the waves and declared a very successful traveling day.

    Next: The Road to Tavira

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    Wednesday, May 4th: The Road through the South


    The weather forecast was not encouraging. Not for the day, not for the day after, not for the week… well, not even for the 15 days ahead. Well, nothing to do about it but go ahead with our plans.

    There is not a single road in the coastal south of Portugal which is marked as green (scenic) in the Michelin map. So our options were to either head straight through the highway to Tavira or do a few inland detours taking the long way around. Of course, this was a no brainer (for us).

    We drove a little into Lagos but decided to skip and continued to Portimão where we took N266 on the way to Monchique. We went through tiny villages, all the time admiring the stupendous display of wildflowers and house gardens. The roses! Every color, every size… just amazing.

    This would have been a spectacular drive with better weather, even so we persevered all the way to Fóia. Sadly the view from the miradouro was limited to maybe about 15 miles. Oh well. We drove back down in the misting rain and opted to just continue on the local road to Tavira.

    This might not (well, was certainly not!) a smart choice. But a little background as to why is needed: DH is the sole driver as I don’t know how to drive stick shift so he gets the final decision on where we drive (he might not agree wholeheartedly with this statement but I can assure you that it is true). DH always prefers to drive on local roads because ‘at least you get to see something’. DH absolutely hated the ‘beep’ the car made every time we went through the (very frequent) tolls in the main highway (‘AGAIN!?!?!’).

    That is how we wound up driving through the 1,000,001 roundabouts that exist on N125 between Portimão and Tavira. I have come to hate those roundabouts.

    DH is a good driver but his ‘action distance’ is much shorter than mine, in other words in most circumstances I would have pushed the brakes at least 2 seconds before he does…causing me to hyperventilate as quietly as I can very often. And he also feels the need to come back to ‘cruising speed’ in as short time as possible, resulting in major G-Force accelerations. So the bottom line is that I always get thrown around and bounced sideways in the passenger seat. I hate roundabouts.

    Was it worth it? I don’t think so. Just dilapidated commercial areas one after the other, a few livelier towns in between, a lot traffic… oh, and did I mention the 1,000,001 roundabouts?

    Words of wisdom? Take the frigging highway. There was nothing to see.

    When we finally arrived to Tavira we were both beat (DH tired and I almost bruised!), but even still we were able to appreciate the beauty of the riverside town under ominous grey clouds. It has an almost Venice-y or Amsterdam-y(very, very liberal interpretation here!) feel to it with all those bridges over the Gilão river.

    We found Hotel Princesa do Gilão without problems, parked in a metered space across the entrance and checked in. This hotel was given an 8.4 rating in booking and I think it is a fair rating, except that I hold grievances against hotels that claim to have parking while the truth is that there is (or might be!) parking available (paying or free) in the general vicinity.

    (There will be much, much more on this further along in the trip!).

    The location is great so, we can forgive them for being vague about the parking situation after DH put in some coins to get us into the free-overnight period.

    We got a room towards the back (which is what I paid for) with a HUGE bathroom, possibly wheelchair accessible (hotel has elevator). The bed was comfortable though the décor is a bit dated (I hate that phrase, but it was true).

    After a much needed power nap, we set out into the gray evening to go explore the town. We crossed one of the bridges that span the Gilão river and headed into the older part of the city. Even in the silver light, or perhaps because of it, we were liking the place.

    We dropped in a café around the main plaza to have a drink and relax while people watching (there should be a category in TA activities to rate a location for people watching….just sayin’!).

    For some reason(and I did not inquire) there seems to be a large, thriving community of Indian/Pakistani people in Tavira and this is reflected in the gazillion of Indian restaurants in town. We were tempted but the insistent hawking from the waiters turned us off from going into any of them. And we had our hearts set on getting one of our favorite staples: pizza. We go out for pizza once a week when we are at home. We were missing our pizzas. It was time.

    A quick inquiry at the hotel and a double check on TA for contrast, we headed out to Mamma Mia Pizzeria. I will admit that we are a bit of pizza snobs and sticklers for thin, airy, crispy crusts. We were pleasantly surprised to get very decent pizzas that did not get too soggy as we ate through them. Maybe it was just because we were hankering for them but still, two thumbs up.

    One more after-dinner drink and we were done for the night.

    Next: Tavira….Under the Big Bad Grey Clouds

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    "DH is a good driver but his ‘action distance’ is much shorter than mine, in other words in most circumstances I would have pushed the brakes at least 2 seconds before he does…causing me to hyperventilate as quietly as I can very often. And he also feels the need to come back to ‘cruising speed’ in as short time as possible, resulting in major G-Force accelerations."


    I completely identify with this. However I have not learned the technique of quiet hyperventilation.

    Still following your very interesting report.

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    Thursday, May 5th: Tavira

    We listlessly looked out from the breakfast table in the hotel into the gray, cold and windy view of the Galão river and the steel gray clouds looming over the city. D@mn it. At least it was not raining. Yet. So we hurried a bit so that we could visit the main sites before the forecasted deluge started.

    The afternoon trip I had planned to the Ilha da Tavira was not even mentioned, it was out of the equation.

    Our first stop was the Castelo de Tavira, which as far as castles go, was nice but not impressive as only a few walls remain. However, inside it has the loveliest garden and it was in full glorious bloom. Rose bushes, bougainvilleas, peonies, lilies... once again the flowers by themselves make this trip worthwhile. The views down to the river and to town were quite nice too.

    We then went into the Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo where we sneaked in with a tour group. Everyone was (very emphatically) told to keep absolute silence and move along quickly. Not sure what the fuss was about but it was quite the nice church. Not that I can tell you exactly why, as I cannot remember and the ladies in charge were watching like hungry hawks to make sure no one took pictures.

    Our second stop was a sneak peak into the Pousada de Tavira and I must say that this was the first of the Pousadas that we had seen where I would have been happy to shell out the big bucks to stay at. Located in the former Antiguo Convento de Graça, it has a great location in town, a truly beautiful building, and an overall welcoming ambiance. Still, out of budget for us during a long trip like we are having.

    It was still not pouring so we continued our wanderings through the very pleasant old town until we came to the Igreja de Santiago. What a gem! This small, 1-nave, church was built in the 13th century but was damaged and rebuilt after the 1775 Lisbon earthquake. The altar is an explosion of gold leaf and the walls are tiled halfway up with scenes depicting the ‘The Corporal Works of Mercy’ (the seven practices of Catholic charity). What made this set so beautiful was that the top of the tilework was not flat, it was made to follow all the curves of the painted frieze. This contrasts quite dramatically against the whitewash wall and the granite architectural details. This style of tiling turned out to be not a unique feature in Portuguese churches but it was the first time that I had truly noticed it so I was quite impressed.

    The misting rain had started so we turned back to the other side of the river so that we would be closer to refuge if the forecasted deluge finally unleashed (and put some more coins in the stupid parking ticket machine which did not accept more than 3.5hours at the time. We later found that there is a free parking lot at that end of the river but we had already paid enough to get us into the free evening and overnight period, so we did not move the car.

    We took a little walk to the upper side so that we could see the miradouro next to the small church of Nostra Senhora do Carmo (closed) and then proceeded to look for a place to have an afternoon drink.

    A bar was randomly picked when the deluge started, mostly for the merits of its ample and sturdy-looking awning.

    I had seen in many places (mostly bars) signs stating ‘Ha Caracols’ (We have Snails) and lots of people actually eating them while enjoying a beer and a soccer match. DH is not crazy about (a) snails or (b) foods that require extensive handling, so he had not been enthusiastic at any of the previous times I had suggested we get a plate. But it was time, I ordered some.

    These are not the classic big French Escargots, they range from tiny to small. They come in a brown liquid and you pick them out of their shells with a toothpick. Same as with escargot, the taste and texture is not much different from a mushroom; very earthy / umami…. Except you need to get over the antennae part. Still, quite satisfying. DH did have a few. Said he is good for another 10 years, though.

    After literally bar hopping from one place to the other as the rain let for a few seconds we returned to the hotel for a nap (not that we were half drunk; that bar hopping thing can leave you tired!), facebook awile and internet surf while waiting until it was time to go out for dinner. Sightseeing was out of the question in the downpour.

    During our afternoon wanderings we had come across a restaurant that was packed to the rafters and had an extensive menu with several dishes we would be interested in trying so we had made a dinner reservation. It was close enough to the hotel so we did not get soaked in the process of getting there.

    At 8:00pm we were promptly showed to our reserved table at Zeca da Bica, the only open table in the place. We had been refusing most of the ‘cubierto’ appetizers that are brought to table (bread, olives, butter, fish pâté, cheese and whatever else the house is trying to sell) but the pickled carrot appetizer that was placed before us looked great so we took it. It was deliciously spiced with cumin, a very welcome departure from the rather neutral Portuguese flavor palette.

    The tables were so crowded together so that it might as well have been a communal table, lol. We had to shift around a few times to let waiters and customers go by. But overall, it had a good enough vibe to enjoy our meal there.

    I did not take notes or pictures of this meal, but I vaguely remember that DH had a lamb dish and I some fish, and that we were both pleased with it.

    Even with the bad weather we both enjoyed our stay in pretty Tavira very much.

    Next: A Long (Really Long) Day in Faro

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    Friday, May 6th: From Tavira to Sevilla via Faro

    I will not go (here) into the convoluted rationale that had us this day heading to Seville for a week in the middle of our Portugal sojourn but here we were, heading in that direction. But before that, there were several things that needed to be taken care of; like ditching the rental car and actually getting there.

    In paper the plan was supposed to work seamlessly: leave Tavira after a leisurely breakfast, drop the car off at Faro airport before noon, put our luggage in storage, spend an hour or two sightseeing around Faro, take the 1:55pm bus to Sevilla, take a taxi to the Airbnb apartment, meet the owner by 5:00pm, have dinner and crash. A long day, but not toooo bad, right?

    It worked, for the most part. Two little things did not happen as expected: there was torrential rain in Faro and there was no 1:55pm bus to Seville in May.

    Let’s take it piece by piece.

    We had breakfast in the hotel (it was included; coffee, bread, ham, cheese, yogurt…) and were out of Tavira before 10:00am. This time we took the highway (Beep, beep, beep on the tolls) and found the rental car dropoff in Faro airport without problems.

    As a side note, we could have taken the bus from Tavira but the price of returning the car there just skyrocketed. Or we could have just kept the car for the week without incurring in much cost but then we would have to find (and pay) for parking in Seville. Not practical either. Autoeurope did not even offer cross-border dropoff, even at any exorbitant price.

    Now, the next step was to locate the Ground Transportation clerk to see about getting our bus tickets. This required going through the airport… no, let me rephrase that: this required battling our way like salmons swimming upstream through the throngs of weekenders that were arriving to Faro and mobbing the golf club rental place.

    We finally got to the Tourist Info / Travel Office and inquired about getting to Sevilla. The attendant actually LOL’ed. ‘What is there in Sevilla? Everyone wants to go to Sevilla today!’ Hummm….

    She gave us a little card showing the full bus schedule … the one with season AND off season schedules. The one in which there was no bus leaving from the airport. And no bus departing Tavira until 3:35pm. She recommended we go to the bus station and inquire over there about an earlier bus.

    We got on the #16 bus from the airport to the bus station. No biggie, ticket purchased from the driver. Wifi on bus. Less than 20 minutes later we are by the bus station. Of course, there was no bus to Seville until 3:35. Still, no biggie… I mean, it’s just to an additional 1.5 hours. More time to hang around in Faro. Except it was pouring. And the 3:35 bus was not on the express route. We would get to Seville at 8:00pm.

    Nothing to do about it. The bus station had a very uncomfortable waiting area and no wifi, not good for a 3+ hour wait. We put our lugged in the consignment and headed to town under the umbrellas. We spent 1.5 hours drinking coffees in a nice café with excellent wifi where we were able to whatsapp the apartment girl to tell her we would be coming in later. The other 1.5 hours were spent in a bar drinking wine and eating an excellent board of cheeses. That was the limit of our Faro sightseeing.

    The trip to Seville was uneventful and the rest of the plan worked out well. I will post a separate trip report for Seville but before closing this one up I will add….. (It doesn’t really make sense anywhere else)


    A BONUS TRACK: Friday, May 13: One night in Beja

    We spent a very wet yet pleasant week in lovely Seville. Thursday evening we went to the bus station to purchase our tickets to Faro (you know, to avoid any surprises!) for the 7:30am bus. The next morning we had a bit of taxi adventure involving very narrow one-way streets, 15-point U-turns and long stretches driven in reverse but we were in the bus station with ample time to have a café con leche before boarding.

    In Faro we reversed our trip from a week before, taking the #16 bus to the airport where we headed directly to the rental car lot. Again, as in Lisbon airport, getting the car took FOREVER. The contract was discussed in excruciating detail (as we were waiving insurance and a long explanation of the political status of Puerto Rico with the teller insisting that we would NOT be covered by any credit card in case of accident; not true). We wound up finally authorizing a $20K+ security deposit on the credit card.

    To make it even longer she kept pushing us to upgrade our car to a station wagon, we adamantly refused. First because I was not sure I wanted a bigger car (memories of the taxi maneuvering through alleys with 2cm on each side were still very fresh) and second, we knew exactly where this was heading.

    There was no other car available, we got the brand new station wagon. Of course.

    By the time we finally got out there it was almost noon. Our destination for the night was Beja, before we took another week to go through the Spanish Extremadura (yet another separate trip report will be written for this part).

    We took N2 from Faro, a road marked as scenic in the Michelin map. It even with still overcast skies, it did not disappoint. Cork trees and wild flowers galore! The hills were now covered in purple. What a beautiful drive.

    Suddenly as we were driving through the town of Cortelha, DH asks if I was hungry. Me? Sure…Most of the time I am anyway. So he hangs a U-turn and heads to a little restaurant he had spotted.

    We went into Casa dos Presuntos and were surprised to find a very nice and quickly filling up restaurant. They set out a cheese and ham platter which looked to be notches above the commonly offered. They were both out of this world. We made (once again) the mistake of ordering a plate for each. We should have shared. Should have. We ate the entire thing. Maybe (just maybe) some potatoes were left at the end.

    We opted for the specials of the day. DH had ‘Borrego Asado’ (Roasted Lamb), falling off the bone tender and well seasoned. But mine was the winning dish: ‘Bochechas’ (Pork Cheeks). I know that this does not sound appealing, but wow! Why did I not know of this before!?!?!? One of the most flavorful and tender cuts of meats I have had. Since then I have tried them whenever offered, some have been better and others not but so far none have been disappointing.

    The bill was €31 for one of the best meals we have had in the entire trip.

    But we still had some driving to do to get to Beja. I had a very hard time remaining awake in the car in order to fulfill my navigator duties.

    We had a few wrong turns before we found our hotel for the night, Hospedaria Dona Maria. Only to find out that it is just across from the Paradouro so, had we known this, we could have easily followed the signs. We managed to snag one of their two parking spaces (1st come, 1st served) and checked in. The room was immaculately clean, the bathroom more than adequate for a 1 night stay and overall, unbeatable for €35. I mean, we had just had lunch for almost as much, lol.

    After settling in we took a walk around town. Hummmm… It has a few attractions but what really made a big impression was the huge quantity of closed businesses and empty houses. We tried to find a lively place to have a drink but honestly, nothing was appealing. So we opted to go into the Paradouro for a drink at their bar, however overpriced that might be.

    Well, the restaurant was closed (not yet open for dinner), the bar was closed for remodelation and we were directed into a cavernous sitting room where we were served two glasses of not so great white wine. The place was deserted. Nope…. We finished our wines and high-tailed out. By that time the restaurant was open and it did seem nice, albeit completely empty.

    We were still full after our gargantuan lunch but I wanted to have a bite before going to bed… you know, to keep the metabolic system engaged… So we went into our hotel’s Pizzeria. It turned out to be quite lively and in high demand on a Friday night. We got the last available table and peoples started queuing after that. We got an excellent pizza which we shared. Yeah, we ate the whole thing. Again. Plus a liter of house wine. Needless to say.


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    So that sums up our lovely week (plus bonus track) as we made our way from Evora to Tavira and which is still, so far, our favorite part of our Portugal stay (with a potential contender in Porto!).

    I’ll post links to the subsequent Trip Reports as I start them.

    Thanks to all for tagging along!

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