Portugal Spring 2018

Currently traveling
Traveling to the UK for a week and then to Portugal for the month of April.
Currently traveling
  • Day29

    Back on the Algarve for a few more days

    April 22, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Hi folks,
    Last Wednesday, Mike and I left the Douro Valley on a postcard perfect day. Bright blue skies, sunshine on the vineyards and the sound of the village’s old men arguing at the local cafe- likely over a strong coffee with a side of muscatel, as is their custom. We pointed the Peugeot south to find more sun and ended up in the town of Evora located in the south Alentejo region. Mike wanted to get some miles in so we wouldn’t have a huge drive on Friday. Our drive took us up, up out of the Douro onto an expansive plain. Earlier on this trip I was wondering about the source of all the cheese and milk, and beef. We found it on this huge plain. Hundreds of kms of cattle and grazing lands.
    Evora was a nice surprise considering neither of us had even heard of the place. Lots of historic sites including the ruins of an old Roman temple, an impressive ancient aqueduct and the second oldest University in Portugal. In fact there were so many ancient/historic sites in Evora that we came across a castle that wasn’t even on the tourist map- ho hum, another castle.
    We lucked out and got a room in a small funky hotel with a roof bar. Nice place to sip some local wines. And we caught some great weather. Wandered in the countryside to see the area’s cork groves. This area of Portugal produces over 50% of the world’s cork. It comes from a specific oak tree which has actually adapted to produce a thick bark to survive forest fires. The bark of the lower trunk areas of these trees are harvested every 7 years or so. Much of the cork goes to wine stoppers although you wonder if that’s a good future source of income given the move to other products and screw tops.
    Another interesting thing about the Evora area is the number of neolithic or prehistoric standing stones or (new word...... cromlechs). Mike is excited that he has a new crossword word and one with which he can baffle his friend Burns. We hiked up to a couple of these cromlech areas and wondered at the ingenuity it must have taken to create something so precise in 6000 BC. Mike said it was the structure he’s been most impressed with so far in Portugal because it was all built without EU funding ( zzzzing)
    On Friday we blasted the last 200km back to the coast to the town of Albufeira on the Algarve. We were met by our Air Band B host and some wet, rainy weather. We are reminded often that this country needs the rain as they suffered terribly from forest fires only 2 years ago and this will give them some protection. Can’t argue with that since we have experienced the same on the west coast. Anyway, the forecast is looking up!
    For the next few days we are staying in a condo within walking distance of the old town of Albufeira. Unfortunately, our first impressions of Albufeira when we biked through a few weeks ago have turned out to be pretty accurate. Lots of stag and hen parties, loud bars and sunburnt Brits. On Friday night the town felt like a bad all- inclusive resort. Lots of signs for full English breakfasts and Sunday roast beef dinners. Mike said, why don’t they just stay home? I replied, the weather of course. But the weather has actually been warmer in the UK this week. Enjoy it up there, Al and Helen. In fairness, the beaches here are beautiful and we have easy access to lots of lovely small villages which we will visit over the next few days. We have a number of recommendations for restaurants and places to see so we’ll stay out of trouble.
    Yesterday we “headed for the hills” and spent some time visiting the super well preserved castle at Silves that is the best example of moorish, military architecture in Portugal. If Helen were here she would describe it much more eloquently no doubt. We then drove up, up to the hills and had a lovely meal in the village of Monchique. Wildboar stew for me and a huge“mature bull”steak for Mike. We had lots of leftovers tonight. Away from abundant seafood on the coast, Portuguese cuisine is very heavy on meat, loads of carbs with hardly a vegetable in sight. Yesterday, the waitress asked me THREE times if I really wanted a salad with my meal as the portion was so large.
    . We head back to Lisbon on Friday to drop off our trusty Peugeot and then we take the milk-run flight route home Saturday via London and Toronto. We hope to see the girls and Malcolm enroute.
    Well that’s about it for Portugal. I don’t expect much more excitement or news over the next few days.
    We’re looking forward to getting home as much as we’ve enjoyed this latest adventure.
    Thanks for traveling with us,
    We look forward to seeing most of you soon. Until then........
    Signing off from Albufeira, Portugal.
    Love Heather/ Mom.
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  • Day24

    Exploring Northern Portugal

    April 17, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Last Friday, Mike and I left Porto and turned the Peugeot north to the Minho Region known for its vino verde. Minho is a very mountainous region which borders Spain and has been fought over many times over the centuries. It is also the area which first broke free from Spain and became the original territory of modern day Portugal. I won’t explain any more than that because as best I can make out, the history of Portugal is about as convoluted as Italy’s. Well maybe not that bad, but more than I can take in on this trip.
    Mike planned the week and wanted to focus on hiking first in the National Park which covers much of the north area and includes a number of mountain ranges including the Serra Peneda where we landed. On Friday we arrived almost at the end of the road in the village of Soaja where long- horned cattle and their droppings were plentiful. Turns out tourist season doesn’t start until May when the weather is better. So we were the only guests in a big, stone house - Casa do Andro. They threw us the door keys and told us to report to the cafe for breakfast in the morning. We found the one place open for dinner and then shivered the night away in our very cold, personal casa. Those stone walls sure do retain the cold. Must be great in the summer.
    Next day we drove further east to the very , very end of the road. Up, up,to Peneda where we visited the huge church dedicated to Our Lady of Peneda - mostly a day trip for people coming from other places.
    . There are 12 very elaborate chapels -each one displaying one of the stations of the cross. I guess in September, the place is so packed with pilgrims that you can’t get past on the road . There are lots of well signed walking trails and We bundled up against the cold and did a beautiful hike through the forest. That night, once again , we were the only guests rattling around in the Peneda Hotel.And again, given the remote location, we only had a single choice for dinner - the hotel- but everyone fussed over us and the proprietor was very chuffed that we were Canadian. In a combination of Portuguese and French he explained that he has three relatives in Montreal (or maybe that he had been to Montreal 3 times, not sure. Three of something. ) We just kept nodding enthusiastically and he treated us to a very nice Reserva red from the Douro Valley and then Port. We left Peneda with woolly heads the next morning. Also we didn’t pay the bill because their bank machine wasn’t working but they didn’t seem too fussed . We paid it yesterday as soon as we could find the correct bank.
    Mike has been doing such a great job driving on these roads. They are very steep and there are loads of switch backs and sheer cliffs where we’ve been the past few days. In the park we saw lots of wild horses that roam around the area. ( I’ll enclose a picture of the wild horses for Malcolm and Mason)
    On Sunday we made a stop in the very well preserved town of Guimares which was the first capital of Portugal but was moved because of all the attacks on the area and from the Region changing hands. It is a lovely medieval town a bit like Colmar in France. There was lots to see just walking around including the requisite drafty, medieval castle.Brrrr
    Finally , yesterday we found the sun and warmth back in the Douro Valley. We had a day visiting this area with Laura and Helen and have had another 2 lovely days in the village of Provezende - a very twisty, 12 km drive outside of Pinhao which is the main tourist spot. Wére comfortably settled in a very old country house which is the family home of the vineyard owners. They’ve converted some of the buildings to host visitors. We have done 2 very challenging walks in the area. Each one about 10km with punishing climbs and then steep tracks down, down. They’re is a reason I go to the gym! On every hike we have been rewarded with spectacular views over the wine region. Miles and miles of vineyards on the slopes , all the vines so perfectly lined up and held back on old stone walls. Small villages clinging to the edges of steep slopes. It is very peaceful walking around this area. We’ve met no other walkers and all the Riverboat cruisers get bused directly to the vineyards for tastings. The prevailing sounds are of tractors plowing the areas between the rows of grapes and theunceasing sound of yapping dogs - and their owners yelling at them to shut up.
    Today our hosts gave us an area map that included 5 small chapels and we hiked up and down to see each one. This afternoon we braved the roads again to visit Favairos which is famous for their muscat wines (a bit sweet for me but nice in small doses) and also their bread cooked over very old wood-fired stoves so it comes out more like pizza crust than bread. Tonight our hosts provided a full meal with wines from his vineyard. An enjoyable evening. We have certainly had a chance to taste lots of local wines and ports and to chat with many Portuguese people. Interestingly, our French has come in very handy as it seems that many Portuguese of non-professional classes have immigrated to France, Switzerland and Canada and then returned to Portugal.
    Tomorrow we head south and we’ll be following the sun. Mike is checking the weather forecasts as I write this. I believe he is suggesting hiking around Evora. Our aim is to be back in the Algarve by late Friday
    That’s it for now. Sorry to heat about snow in Alberta, rain in BC and ice in Toronto.
    Love Heather/ Momx
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  • Day20


    April 13, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    On Monday the 9th Mike and I picked up a rental car at the airport and we headed out of town with Laura and Helen to our next destination - The Pena Palace on the hilltop above Sintra, not too far from Lisbon. This is a big tourist attraction and we were part of a large flock of cars, buses and camera toting tourist to visit. We made a strategic decision not to wait in line to visit the palace but instead wandered around the gardens and the outer areas. The palace is relatively new (mid1800s) and is still used for state functions. I think it is best described as romantic in appearance. Although Helen, the architect, said it reminded her of the Disney castle on steroids. I guess that is not surprising because Ferdinand II, then King Consort to Queen Maria II of Portugal was German and had the castle modeled after the Rhine river castles, as did Disney when designing his main castle.
    We left the crowds of Sintra and headed to the medieval town of Obidos for the night. The castle at Obidos is a beautifully preserved medieval castle and there is a pousada that operates out of the castle. A pousada is like the Spanish Paradores, buildings of historic significance that have been preserved and repurposed into hotels or hostels. So we had our night in the castle! Only 2 challenges: Mike had to thread our rented Peugeot in and out of the medieval walled town with inches on each side to spare, and we had many, many slippery steep steps to climb even to get to our breakfast. Before dinner, We enjoyed a beverage and a quick read at the Literary Man Hotel which features a bar amongst thousands of books built into an old seminary. Very unique and worth a return visit. We had another memorable meal in the small town. Mike and I both enjoyed dishes made from codfish, which is like the national dish although no cod is actually caught in Portuguese waters- all of the catch coming from northern waters.At the end of the evening the very chatty waiter served us a Portuguese brandy called Lourinha. Mac, I think we are taking your perfect vacation.
    We arrived in Porto on Tuesday with a stop for lunch in the picturesque town of Aviero. It is like a little Venice on the coast with small, old fashion wooden boats which are no longer used for trade but only to take tourists out. They were cute but with surprisingly, hmmmm crude cartoons painted on their sides. Laura talked us into the best fish restaurant even though we arrived after lunch hour. They quickly rustled up two large grilled fish with sides.
    Then is was on to Porto where we have spent the past three days. We braved some really rainy, cold weather and saw lots of sites. Pretty much wore all the cold weather clothes we brought each day! One day we headed on a small tour to the Douro region for some wine tasting and a boat ride on the Douro. The Douro river is very scenic and reminded us a bit of the Danube with vineyards on steep hills on each side. We came close to capsizing as a large cruise-style river boat steamed by very quickly. With some quick action by the Captain we were saved from disaster or at least a chilly swim. As part of the vineyard tours we were treated to a homemade lunch which included many courses, too much food and lots of wine from the Douro area. Tasted some interesting blends and some dessert wine from Muscatel grapes (sorry if I got that wrong you wine experts)
    We enjoyed many things about Porto even though we did not see it at its best. There were a number of things we would like to have visited but lining up in the rain was simply not appealing. Lisbon and Porto are now very popular and quite busy with tourists. Places that the discount airlines fly are now quite crowded, even this time of year. We did walk a lot and tasted some ports, ate more great tapas and Laura picked up some nice Gifts.
    Our highlight in Porto had to be last night. Laura contacted a friend from her time walking the Camino de Santiago and Carlos picked us up and took us to a lovely oceanside restaurant for a meal. Laura, the intrepid traveller finally tried the one Portuguese dish that noone else has been brave enough to try. Named Francesinha, it can only be described as a grilled sandwich containing cheese, various meats, perhaps seafood, smothered in cheese, grilled and then served swimming in a piquant, tomato and beer based gravy - yup served with fries. Some stories say that the providence was Napoleon’s army needing calories etc. I think the story about some guys trying to emulate the French Croque Monsieur is likely closer to the truth. Anyway, our Laura soldiered on and ate about half of this concoction while the rest of us had fish/ seafood. We had a defibrillator standing by!

    This morning we cleared out of our Porto digs, said goodbye to our very companionable companions Helen and Laura who must return home and resume normal life. Aka work. We will miss their optimism (« I’m pretty sure the rain is lighter than an hour ago, don’t you think? »). Wé’ll miss Helen’s informative descriptions of all the structures that we see. I was just getting my Baroque and Neo-classical sorted out.We will certainly miss Laura’s enthusiasm for everything and her great restaurant picks.
    Mike and I are taking a break from the cities and are headed for a week of back country Portugal. We’ll try to walk off a bit of the excesses of the past few weeks and see some of the countryside where there are no tour buses or line-ups. More to follow.
    That’s all for now,
    Love Heather/ Mom x
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  • Day15

    Lisbon's Many Sites and Tastes

    April 8, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ 🌧 9 °C

    On Thursday we completed our cycling trip across the Algarve with a triumphant arrival at the very windy Capo St. Vincent, the most western point of Portugal and mainland Europe. After a look at the beautiful vistas and a celebratory beer, we were transported by van to the lovely hillside town of Loule. We enjoyed another excellent Portuguese meal where Helen and I had cuttlefish done in lots of olive oil and garlic. Can’t go wrong with that. We all really enjoyed Loule the next morning. It felt much more like a real working town and not simply one that was overrun with visitors. It seems that the secret is to get away from the coast a bit.

    Friday afternoon we arrived at one of Lisbon’s many rail stations. The entrance to the city was quite impressive over a bridge like San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge . Lisbon sits by a large, natural harbour that is at the mouth of the Tagus River. Much of what happens in the city is centred around the waterfront.

    Helen has been in charge of our Lisbon visit and she has kept us going at a very fast clip. She even wrote notes for the blogs- she took her job of Lisbon convener very seriously indeed. She rented us a large and well appointed 2 br apartment in the Estrela area which sits on one of Lisbon’s 7hills. Wéve been walking up and down cobbled roads for the past 2 days. Thank goodness we decided not to bike this. Would have been impossible!

    Helen writes: We arrived Friday a bit north of our rental flat and, after a bit of argy bargy, found the cab stand. More argy bargy while the cabbie discussed our address with his fellow cabbies - pointedly avoiding us or our gps - and we set off and shortly were settled in a very stylish flat overlooking the old town.

    By the time we headed out for dinner it was late so we were modest in our ambitions. But we had found a promisingly well reviewed restaurant in the neighbourhood so set off down the hill to explore. we found the restaurant but it was fully booked, sigh, so we repaired to a wine bar next door. Only to discover that at the wine bar we could not only sample the best regional wine but order anything we wanted from the restaurant (too full to accomodate us) next door. Private party! Great food and an absolutely brilliant bottle of Douro red.
    The young server also gave us some interesting incites into lofe in Portugal these days.

    Saturday we had a leisurely start at the well appointed flat and then set out to explore old Lisbon. We started at the Basilica nearby - v grand- then caught one of the old trams towards the old fort. The little wooden tram was a great way to chug through the twisting and narrow old streets. We then worked our way on foot through several alleys and, pausing for coffee and portugese pastries, to emerge at the gate of the fort...rebuilt on similar lines by all the armies that occupied lisbon over centuries.

    Despite the historic importance of the site, we were put off by the VERY long ticket line, and decided to just walk through the district up to one of the viewing points on one of the seven hills of Lisbon. We ambled through the flea market, took in the Pantheon, and enjoyed the view. We also entertained ourselves watching a freshman pickpocket trying to work the crowd without skill or success. Poor chap - we nearly asked him to pose for a photo under a sign that warned tourists about pickpockets.

    Time to tackle more transit....quite a bit of head scratching and we finally cracked the metro tickets and headed north to the site of the 1998 Exposition to indulge in a little modern architecture. ( ps Heather immediately recognized the architect as Santiago Caletrava). We managed to dash into a restaurant for lunch as the heavens opened. But rain was to be our fate for a bit. We hopped into a cable car to get an impressive if watery view of the longest bridge in europe - the Vasco da Gama bridge. There are a lot of significant things named after Vasco Da Gama.

    A bus ride back towards town and we ended the cultural part of the day with the National Tile Museum. This may sound dry but was absolutely stunning - a beautiful old monastery adorned with Portugese tiles in the most imaginative of expressions.

    Our feet were cold and sore by this point so we headed home to dry out/warm up. A bit later we headed out to eat simply in a nearby place. Our first choice - a convivial Italian - was full. Or so we thought. Turns out they were happy to accommodate us in another room across the street! We finished off with a limoncello and headed ´homé. Belem and Baixa await tomorrow

    Update from Sunday. Helen had another full day (23000 steps worth) for us today and we walked around a couple more of the interesting barrios in the city and made a quick stop to sample the Regional cherry liqueur known as Ginjinha. 10 am was A bit early to be sampling liqueurs but we were too pooped to go out last night and Helen and Laura are purists and insisted that we go to THE little shop for a tasting. It was actually not unpleasant. Next we were off for more squares, statues and then made a stop at Time Out Market which is a food market set up in an old market building. There are a number throughout world and the idea is for people to sample excellent regional food and drink. We tasted some delicious fish cakes made with salt cod and potatoes. Kind of like a croquette. After that, we were off to the Belem area which had been the Centre of Portugal’s former maritime glory. It is now a residential district but has a few good things to visit including an ancient tower guarding the harbour and the beautiful monastery built to celebrate - yup you guessed it - Vasco da Gama’s successful journeys to other parts of the world, including India, He is buried in the church there.
    We have only touched on the many things to see (and eat) in Lisbon. It is an interesting city with nooks and back alleys to explore as well as some significant museums and sites. The food is wonderful, the weather is normally better than the rain we’ve had and we’ve had no problems getting around. It feels like a safe city with the obvious cautions. They could do a better job on the dog dirt front and also get the graffiti under control. Certainly worth another visit.
    Tomorrow we set sail north. We pick up a rental car at the airport and will overnight at a Pousada in Obidos. We are expecting luxury for one night in the castle. ( Mike thinks for what we paid that he’s actually bought the place)

    That’s all for now. Boa-noite for now,
    Love Mom/Heather
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  • Day11

    Hello from Praia da Luz, still smiling

    April 4, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Hi folks,
    It’s Wednesday afternoon and we are safely ensconced in a lovely hotel in Praia Da Luz called the Belavista. Yes, lovely vistas as the name implies ( see enclosed photo) but we had to climb up to get them! We’ve had 5 days of varied cycling. Our first 2 days were not too long and relatively flat. On day 2 we actually biked back through Faro where we started our trip. We were able to check out the Igreja(church) do Carmo) an 18th century Catholic church known for its small chapel built out of the bones and skulls of over 1200 monks. The ossuary called the Capela de Ossos or chapel of bones has an inscription above the door « stop here and think of the fate that will befall you ».

    Speaking of befalling, so far, knock on wood, no one has come off a bike without intent. Laura tried to tangle with a bus two days ago but it all ended amicably. Helen is a fiend in the round abouts( traffic circles) of which there are many. Her daily London cycling requires a certain....shall we say, assertiveness that is needed in cases of traffic circles. Overall, the drivers have been patient and courteous.
    Day 3 had more distance from Olhao to Vilamoura and more climbing. Vilamoura is quite a resort town although still quiet at the moment. Loads of shuttered apartments and lots of empty tables at the hotel breakfast buffets. Must be the weather which is not quite beach weather but it is perfect for cycling. Our hotel in Vilamoura was one of the large chains - Vila Gale and we were able to enjoy the spa! We also cycled through a very large and deluxe golf community that day. Reminded me of Phoenix with 4 courses, lovely manicured areas, palms, shopping centres etc. Mac, it looked like your kind of place.
    Laura has been right on the job as co-navigator with me and also restaurant researcher. At Vilamoura we took a different culinary route and enjoyed excellent Mexican with guacamole made at our table. Yuuuuuum. Only problem was the very large mains which none of us could finish even with our biking appetites,
    Yesterday, Wednesday was a tough cycling day. It was a long distance made longer by unexpected detours, tough times navigating through various towns including Albufeira and a relentless headwind that felt like someone pushing you backwards. Not surprisingly The wind is howling from west to east, opposite of our cycling direction and it picks up as the temp rises in the afternoon. If anyone is tempted to bike the Algarve, you might want to look at going the other direction, just saying. We finally, literally staggered into the beautiful seaside town of Praia ( beach) Da Rocha ( of the rocks). We stayed in a small B and B with a very chatty proprietor who tried to convince me that a 2night stay would be preferable. Agreed, but we have to keep moving. Laura guided us to a cheap and delicious pizza place last night but the highlight of Praia Da Rocha besides the beautiful views was the late afternoon drink at the beach.
    Today is Thursday and our ride was much less demanding and we literally breezed into Praia Da Luz and were having our post ride drink by 230. Wéve really enjoyed such varied scenery. Lots of trails near the ocean, often skirting large estuaries. Small villages and lots of countryside. We’ve also has to do some road cycling to get from area to area. Less scenic but efficient.
    Tomorrow is our last day cycling and God willing, we’ll make Sagres and then Cape Saint.Vincent on the very western tip by 3. We are getting picked up there and driven back to Loule which is mid-Algarve. On Friday we train to Lisbon. Our bike days have been fewer this trip to allow Helen and Laura time to see some other sites.
    To answer a couple of questions: weather has been fine. Better than Helen’s very pessimistic weather app forecast. The sun is out but the heat is not an issue, so perfect. Are we having any trouble communicating? No, this area relies on tourism and with few exceptions everyone has some English. Our little bit of Spanish is useful in understanding most signs. People are exceptionally friendly and very willing to help us. See attached picture at a garage yesterday outside of Albufeira and Mike’s tire troubles,
    We have not done too much site seeing although Helen, our tour guide and historian, has briefed us on each area as we pass through. But we’ll have to come back to take in the many castles, Roman ruins and the wax museum of Portuguese historical highlights.
    Must run and get ready as Laura has another great restaurant idea for tonight.
    Hope all is well wherever you are........thanks for your notes.
    Love Heather/ Mom
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  • Day8

    Rolling Along the Algarve

    April 1, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    The Algarve is Portugal’s southern-most region and covers the area from the eastern border with Spain to the western most corner at Cape St. Vincent. We are biking the 200 km or so this week. Not an epic journey, but one that gives us lots of time for stops along the way. The Algarve became popular in the sixties as affordable flights became available but it has never had the crowds of Spain . The coast is a series of white- washed fishing villages, lovely low-lying marshes and salt flats, sandy beaches and lots of holiday destinations. So far the predominant language we’ve heard besides English and Portuguese is German.
    On Thursday, Mike and I flew from the UK to Faro and rendezvoused with our bike-trip buddies Helen and Laura of the Danube trip fame. We stayed in a lovely boutique hotel and toasted our reunion with some excellent and inexpensive local wine and some fried sardines. We had a chance to explore Faro on Friday and then we were transported east to the border of Spain to a lovely town called Vila Real de Sant Antonio ( lovingly Referred to as VRSA).
    In VRSA we got our bikes for the week from the rental company. They are not quite what we expected. To begin with Mike’s is far too big - perhaps because he insisted I tell them that he is 6 ft tall! The ladies’s bikes are very klunky and more like commuter bikes that you’d put a basket and poodle in. Great for cruising gently allng the flat areas but it could be harder as we have any hills and climbing to do. We’ve contacted the rental agency and hope to get one or more exchanged but we’ll see. Being the Easter weekend, everything is shut down. Mike has had to be our super roadie. Every big bump seems to create another noise or problem and he has been continuously adjusting brakes, raising seats and investigating weird non-bike like noises.
    Our first 2 days of biking have been easy and very scenic. First day from Vila Real de Santo Antonio to Tavira. Today from Tavira to Olha. Lots of winding trails around the coastal marshlands and salt flats. We have passed huge piles of salt - a thriving industry in these parts. The fragrance in many areas is overwhelming of orange blossoms. There are lots of citrus trees. And succulents. There are huge stork nests in all kinds of places. Very scenic. The ocean is always on our left side (or we’re going the wrong way).
    Helen has briefed us all back up on architectural lingo. We needed to be reminded since the last trip. As we wander through the towns she points out the various styles and eras of the buildings such as phoenician, roman, classical, baroque, rococo, modern etc. Mike, Laura and I are now adept at nodding knowingly and mumbling things like - « hmmmm, that baroque - so over the top...... ». Actually , the tile work is noticeable. It is a big industry here and many buildings are beautifully clad in colourful tiles. Most of the roads in the villages and towns are still cobble-stone making biking a bit of a teeth rattling experience. Fortunately a good feature of our bikes is their wide, thick tires.
    We have particularly enjoyed the food so far. Lots of wonderful sea food. Grilled tuna and sea bass. Sardines, shrimps and tonight squid. It will be awhile before we are tired of it.
    Today is Easter and we found a church in the town of Tavira , where we stayed last night, that celebrated Easter mass with a parade. We were alongside as the churchgoers came out of the beautiful old church lead by the incense -waving priests followed by small children spreading flower petals. The local band followed the procession playing suitably religious sounding music. They wound through the old town to the river where something else happened but we couldn’t stay as it was time to hit the trails.
    Tonight we are overnight in the town of Olha -pronounced nothing like it looks. There’s a harsh J sound in there somewhere. Tomorrow we may have rain and our distance will be a bit further so things are getting serious. I’m the navigator and my job is to make sure we don’t get lost and to make sure we arrive at thenext hotel before everyone dies of thirst. So far, so good!
    That’s the news for now. Thanks for all of your notes. Love them.
    Fi and Jiggs- enjoy Mexico.
    Love from Portugal,
    Heather/ Mom xxxx
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  • Day4

    Finally diagnosed Mike's Condition

    March 28, 2018 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 4 °C

    Hello folks,

    Mike and I have finished our week in England. We spent the past 3 days in the Yorkshire area where we explored some small villages and managed some walks to ward off some of the damage caused by pub lunches and pies. As part of our walk in the market town of Richmond, we popped into a microbrewery where Mike read about « cenosillicaphobia » and realized that this is the condition from which he has been suffering. This condition is the fear of an empty glass. He feels better knowing his condition is actually medical and that there may be a treatment.
    In Richmond we also took a tour of the oldest working theatre in the UK. An old Georgian Theatre which has been restored to it’s original state with modern amenities like lighting and electric lights so that it can continue to work. Yesterday we made a stop in the city of York where we looked in on the York Minster cathedral and impressive gothic structure built for the catholic church but converted during the reformation.

    The Yorkshire Dales are beautiful rolling hills and valleys with frequent small stone villages. Lots of tea shops , old pubs and farms. The people have broad accents like listening to BBC 1 shows ( eg Last Tango in Halifax)We had lunch on the North York Moors in a very old pub where Ron and Mike stayed last year. An overriding smell in many villages is that of burning coal as many places are still heated with coal. Have to say the Northern area is quite pleasant especially since we hit a dry spell weather-wise. It is far more scenic and pleasant than the very densely populated southern regions of England. Worth another visit. Mac there is a great air museum in York but we didn’t stop in.

    Today we repack and head to Portugal on a Ryan Air flight from Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Looking forward to reconvening with our biking buddies Helen and Laura tonight.
    Just returned our rental car to Enterprise. It was unscathed which was a feat considering the narrow ways we travelled. Our waistlines are not as unaffected!

    That’s all for now. Thanks for all the comments and notes. Happy Easter!
    Heather/ Mom x
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  • Day1

    Weekend at an English Manor House

    March 25, 2018 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    Mike and I left Victoria, once again, on Wednesday morning. Our first stop on this trip is England where we will spend a total of 7nights. Mike’s brother Alun turned 70 on March 22 and we are here to celebrate with the extended Parrys.
    Our trip over to Europe was pleasantly uneventful as we enjoyed premium economy, bulk head seats, the airport lounges and a glass or two of vino to make things easier. We rented a car in Manchester - an SUV with a funny name (it has 2 Qs in the name?) Poor Mike has to take the burden of all the driving in the UK and coming off a plane tired and having to immediately navigate round-abouts ( traffic circles) going the wrong way... well you can understand why one needs a refreshment upon arrival. Actually, we rested and then took Al “out to pub” for his birthday dinner.
    Friday A.M. we packed up some food and ++ cases of champagne and set off north to the Lake District. For those unfamiliar with English geography, the Lake District is in the county of Cumbria on England’s west coast. It is the hilly region of the country with the highest peak, Scarfell. There are many beautiful lakes in the area. It is probably the most popular holiday area of the country for Brits who cottage there and enjoy the walking while all the overseas tourists are crowding places like London, Oxford and the likes.
    Mike and I spent Friday exploring some small picturesque towns like Windemere where we spent time with Ron and Diane a few years ago. Mike pointed out some of the spots he and Ron hiked last year on their coast to coast hike. I have a new appreciation for how challenging their 2 week walking adventure must have been.

    We arrived at our weekend home away from home , a beautifully restored Manor house called Melmerby Hall located in the small village of Melmerby. Not quite Downton Abbey scale but certainly very large and beautifully appointed. There are many common rooms, some formal and some less formal. There are 9 bedrooms with ensuites. There is a massive industrial type kitchen and a kitchen table that can seat 20. There is a formal dining room which we used last night. We all agree it would be a spectacular property in which to live if it had a Mr Carson and a couple of Mrs Hughes.
    The entire weekend gang arrived at about 530 Friday night and there was lots of hugging, oohing and awing over the children we hadn’t met yet-and lots of group pictures. Besides ourselves and Al and Natalie, there are Al’s 3 sons, 2 partners, 4 children ,Al’s brother-in-law Eric and his wife from Plymouth whom we stayed with last year , and two couples who are close friends of Al’s. On Friday we had our meet and greet at the local pub which is only a few hundred metres up the road.

    Yesterday Helen arrived by train from London. We also managed a very long walk to a nearby village and then back over the fields. The British system of rights of way is so interesting as there are marked walking trails in virtually every direction. The fields are full of sheep and their babies as they have just birthed. A few of them might have ended up at dinner last but.... they are rather sweet to see. There were lots of horses to pet along the way so the children were happy. Mike and I decided not to travel with heavy hiking shoes/ boots for this part of the trip so we were a bit mucky by the end of the walk.

    Last night (Saturday) was the big birthday event and we all got dressed up to celebrate. The men looked particularly handsome in their tuxedos. Mike borrowed one and we hitched up the pant hems and squeezed him into a borrowed shirt. The party was a great success with a wonderful dinner that Al had catered. There was free flowing champagne and a few toasts. After dinner we moved back the rugs and danced. We were missing you Jon on DJ duty. I think that Al was very pleased with how things went and having the family and his closest friends around.
    Today we were all moving a bit more slowly. The children including a 7month old, a 2 year old like our Malcolm named after Mike’s Dad Frank , a very chatty 3 year old girl named Lowrie and Chris’s daughter Lilly were all up at their usual time. I think one of the parents Susanna was on kid duty so the rest could lie in.
    We enjoyed another very scenic walk today up and down the local farmer’s fields. The weather is holding but promises to get cooler for the rest of the week.
    Helen took the train back to London this afternoon. She puts her head down for a few days of work and then we RV again on Thursday night for the second leg of our trip in Portugal. Until Thursday, Mike and I are planning to spend a few more days exploring the Lake District and the Yorkshire dales. We are actually looking forward to a couple of quiet days as things have been a fast-paced blur for the past few months.

    That’s all the news from the Manor house. Ta ta for now!
    Heather/ Mom
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