Active traveler, lover of good food and wine.
  • Day14

    Faro Foodie Fun

    September 18, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Today is the last day of our Ireland/Portugal trip. Tomorrow is the first day of our Camino. We have a busy day planned as we leave our little cube house in Olhao.

    First a food tour organized in Faro. Faro is the capital of the Algarve region and it is a large city, but the central part of town is very historic, lovely and well preserved/restored. We park by the old city walls and explore the old town as we walk uptown toward the Mercado Centro.

    We have arranged the tour through Air BnB which now does “experiences”, it is a clever new business line. Sali is our guide. She is a nutritionist who has traveled extensively with the UN, primarily Africa. It is just the six of us, the other three are young engineers from Denmark. We visit some of the stalls, talk to the vendors, many who have been there for decade. We sample their wares, learning about the culture, the history, and some of the traditions.

    We then hit the streets, learning a bit more about Faro on our way to lunch at a traditional restaurant where we get to know each other.

    After lunch we walk around a bit more, find a pastry shop and then finish with espresso. After the tour we go to About Wine (an amazing little wine shop) to pick up a couple of bottles for dinner with our friends Mitch & Lynn at their little villa.

    I worked with Mitch a decade ago and we have kept in touch ever since. They happened to be travelling to Portugal with some friends at the same time as us. They are staying an hour north of Lisbon, we are flying out of Lisbon. It is a 3.5 hour drive from Faro. We have a lovely visit, eat some tapas and drink a small amount of very good wine, before heading to our airport hotel for an early flight.

    This portion of our overall trip has been great. Ireland was more touristy and Portugal more local, both were lovely in their own right. The entire trip so far, has been somewhat overshadowed by the Camino which looms larger and larger.
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  • Day12

    Beach Birthday, Baby!

    September 16, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    It is Sunday in the Algarve so it is time to head to the beach! After a leisurely breakfast we drive to Pedras d’el Rei. We are definitely not alone, it is likely 80/20 for locals to tourists as we walk the one km through this section of the Ria Formosa National Park. The Ria is a a unique coastal lagoon protected by five marshland islands with significant biodiversity including the Portuguese Water Dog a web footed poodle and hosts 20,000 birds during winter including several rare species - a person could have a Big Year just by hanging out in the Ria.

    The walk is lovely, we see some birds, we don’t know their lineage. When we get to the beach we rent chairs and a cover for half a day and get comfortable. The water is very lovely - warm, aquamarine, it is the Atlantic but it feels like the Mediterranean. The beach is idyllic, soft, icing sugar consistency. The water recedes very gradually so you can walk out several metres before the water reaches above your head. Most everyone is properly attired - a couple of women are missing their tops, a few gentleman have “speedo’s”.

    We have lunch at the Museu do Atum, the building was fashioned from the tuna (atum) fishing facilities on the island we are on. It is light, reasonably good and slightly overpriced.

    After lunch we drive to Tavira which is further east, nearly at the Spanish Border. Tavira is an old Roman town and the Moors built a castle here during the time they ruled this part of Portugal. We explore the remains of the Moorish castle and wander the gardens inside before heading back to Olhao for some downtime, packing time and finally dinner time.

    Dinner is at Terra i Mar a lovely seafood restaurant. The menu is predominantly fish and is all freshly sourced from the fish market that we visited yesterday. Laurie finds a steak to order and I have the bream it is served with the head on. It is a lovely and delicate white fish. We have ordered white sangria and some red wine with some tapas to start. A wonderful birthday dinner.
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  • Day11

    Algarve - Olhao

    September 15, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    It is going to be a quiet day in the Algarve. We are going local. I am up early but Laurie is sleeping in this morning. I read and relax, catch up on the news. When Laurie gets out of bed we have some coffee and head to the market. Olhao is home to the biggest fish market in the Algarve and on Saturdays it is supplemented with farmers from the surrounding hill towns who come in with various produce. We buy some berries and some honey for our friends who we are visiting on Monday. We take a look at the fish market - there is an interesting assortment of fish - lots of sardines, eels, mackerel, and fish I have never heard of.

    Olhao is home to a fish canning factory and we head there after the market to pick up some anchovies and sardines to take home and then at the local bakery to pick up a loaf of bread.

    A quick lunch and we head out for the western Algarve. We drive through the hills and arrive at Lagos, it is busy - much busier than Olhao and the eastern Algarve. We decide not to stay and make the journey back home. We relax and siesta until supper time.

    Rested we walk down the end of our little street to the corner restaurant Mosse, it is quiet and we sit outside. They have two English menus which are in use by the other tourists, two families are having a meal - it is a microcosm of the area. The service is slow/relaxed, we enjoy a bottle of 100 Hectares Douro white with our salted cod and chicken vol au vent and when we leave our pocket book is barely dented.

    The Algarve was meant to be a relaxing time in advance of the Camino. Day1 - mission accomplished.
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  • Day10

    Travel Day

    September 14, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ 🌙 23 °C

    It is an hours drive from Doolin to the Shannon Airport and our 10:20AM Ryan Air flight. So it is an early morning and we have had to skip Darra’s lovely breakfast - she was kind enough to pack some fruit and banana bread for our drive. Such a wonderful place and wonderful people, Doolin has been the highlight of Ireland for us. As we have travel planned, so many people we know have been to Ireland before us and have provided their recommendations of places you “must go to”. I think more than other places, Ireland’s charm lies with its people experiences that you can’t recreate just by being there. You are better off to get out of Dublin sooner than later, then pick highly rated B&B’s and get a feel for the place. Our best experiences were in Doolin (and the cliffs are amazing).

    Anyway I digress, we have chosen to fly Ryan Air not for their “low airfare”, not for their impeccable service, not even for the Ryan air experience - only for their schedule - no other airline was flying to Faro, Portugal that day from Shannon. We have never flown Ryan Air - we have heard about the “experience”; I have flown discount airlines in the past but nothing is as blatantly shameless for up selling as Ryan Air. Fifty euro ($80 Cdn) to check a bag; they randomly assign seating unless you pay to select your seats (Laurie and I are 26 rows apart); water, coffee, snacks are all charged; they sell their own lottery tickets on board after take off; and then they do all the usual stuff that every airline seems to do these days to add cash. We have two hen parties and a stag party on board our flight. Liquor is served and the up selling of duty free begins in earnest. We would never have flown Ryan Air if reasonably avoidable.

    Next to Spain’s Mediterranean coast, Portugal’s Algarve is a favourite for sun seeking English and Irish. Luckily all the “resorts” are West of Faro and we are heading to the Eastern Algarve.

    We pick up our rental car from Sixt, who want to charge us for an extra driver, Laurie says she will drive, but because the Am Ex (which is the only card we have that has European auto insurance) I have to drive. We get our car - a very nice Renault Cleo.

    The town of Olhao is interesting and we are looking forward to our four days and three nights here. We have booked an Air BnB. It is on a little cobblestone street with no cars. It is a typical Algarve three story cube house that has been tastefully renovated - keeping the interesting parts and replacing the rustic ones. When you enter the house on the main floor you are in the bedroom with stone walls and a high stone ceiling. It is hot in the Algarve, so the bedroom is on the main floor - the stone will absorb the heat during the day and release it at night. They have added air conditioning but for our first night we do not use it. The second floor has steep stairs to the kitchen and living room; there is a little balcony. There are stone walls with some plaster for hanging pictures. Off the balcony you can climb to the flat roof top that has a partial view over the other roof tops to the ocean where the wives could watch their husbands come home from fishing. The roof top would also be used to dry fruit and fish. Back on the main floor, I suspect the bathroom was completely redone as it is thankfully very modern. All in all, I doubt we will stay in such an interesting and local place again on our trip. Thanks Air BnB for opening up new possibilities of places to stay.

    Today is laundry day and unfortunately our place doesn’t have a washer and dryer - we knew this going in and chose the place anyway because it was so darn interesting. We figure out where the laundry mat is and trek our way there. Laundry mats are not typically in prime real estate so we walk through the working class streets of Olhao to a very nice place and do our laundry listening to Portuguese MTV and browsing Portuguese style People magazines (okay for the record there is no browsing - they have free wifi). An hour later we walk home, pick up some grocery essentials at a little “minimart” and hang our laundry out on the drying rack they provided and the clothes line we brought. We have a beer and some snacks on the upper balcony - while a neighbour plays Adele on their boom box.

    After a nice break we head to the historic town centre and waterfront; stroll along the promenade and pick a wine and tapas bar, 7 Imeio. It was recommended by our hosts in the amazing information package they provided. The wine bar is very interestingly decorated, the wine is all Portuguese and the tapas are delicious and well presented.

    A quiet day, as travel days usually are, but a good start to our brief time in the Algarve.
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  • Day9

    Rough Seas to Aran Island

    September 13, 2018 in Ireland ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Doolin is a lovely place on the mainland of Ireland, our B&B is fantastic as is the breakfast. So for some reason we are going to get on a boat, face five foot swells and go to Inishmeer (Inis Oirr) Island - the smallest of the famed Aran Islands. We have a lovely 2km walk to the pier and it affords us a view of the Atlantic Ocean the whole way. It is a windy day, we are dressed warmly - we think.

    On the thirty five minute ride out the crew ushers everyone to the interior. The Star of Doolin is a decent size, 24 feet and can sit 40 or so people inside. The waves crash against our boat, many people look like they might revisit their breakfast, Laurie has taken her Gravol so she is hanging in.

    We arrive to the island in one piece, disembark and catch a horse drawn carriage around the little island. It is an enjoyable 45 minute tour and the pictures will do this part of the trip much more justice than words ever can.

    300 people make their home on Inis Oirr, tourism is the primary industry followed by agriculture (cattle primarily). Stone fence walls abound as it was the best place to put the shale and limestone that covered the ground. There is “K-12” schooling, a medicentre and thankfully more than one pub. After walking around we determine a pub would be in order so we wander in and have a beer and Irish Coffee accompanied by a pub food lunch.

    We stroll around the beach for a while before heading to our boat for the return voyage. The water is calm around the island and they let us sit outside - that’s a good sign... right. Past the shelter of the island the waves kick up and start crashing over the bow.... we are instantly drenched. The boat is making a tour of the Cliffs of Moher so we can see the cliffs from the water and see the Harry Potter Sea Cave - it is all very cool. It does however extend the trip to over an hour of wave crashing good fun. Our water proof jackets do well but our jeans - not so much. We disembark at the Doolin pier and make our soggy 2km trek back to town.

    Another couple from our B&B have made the same out and back trek with us, they also were at the Music House last night. They are American, he is retired Military Intelligence, we have avoided politics until waiting for the ferry back to Doolin. Then it all comes out, they are embarrassed by their president as, they feel, is 66% of the American population. We instantly feel badly for them - you can tell the impact of not being proud of your country weighs on their shoulders. As Canadians we have rarely if ever faced that weight.

    At dinner we find them at the same restaurant and sit beside them - they are interesting and well informed - unlike, unfortunately, some of the other Americans we have encountered on our trip to Ireland. It is interesting times to travel.
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  • Day8

    Cliffs of Insanity

    September 12, 2018 in Ireland ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Holidays are too short. There I said it. We are heading for our last stop in Ireland - Doolin. I have heard we have saved the best for last. We take the route over Conner’s Pass - it is as breathtaking as it is terrifying. No guard rails, single lane at times - Laurie drives like a pro and we make it up and over the pass with ease.

    The rest of the drive is relatively flat, we drive past towns like Tralee and Limerick before getting to Doolin and the Stone Cutters Inn - recommended by our friends. It is a bit tacky on the outside but good food and a quaint atmosphere inside. We find out that the matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna is on for the month of September in Doolin. Doolin is the setting for the movie The Matchmaker with Janeane Garofalo.

    We head to our B&B the Sea View House. It is a charming place with four bedrooms to let. After getting settled we put on our hiking gear and head for the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are a staggering 240 metres (788 feet) straight above the ocean and made of sandstone and siltstone. The cliffs are actually the Cliffs of Insanity in the classic Princess Bride - inconceivable! It is also featured in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Ryans Daughter, Leap Year and many Moher.

    It is a 6km walk up to and along the cliffs edge to a visitor centre that most people drive to. The path is wide when it needs to be, it is a bit muddy, an electric fence (to keep the cows herded) forms our left hand side. The entire walk to the visitor centre is breathtaking every time you thing you have reached the top another rise awaits you. It is packed at the visitor centre and we don’t linger at the top for too long. The journey is as enjoyable as the destination.

    Back at our B&B we find out that there is a house party with Irish legend Christy Barry. We manage to snag the last couple of tickets and drive to the Barry house. Christy’s wife Shiela welcomes us and gives us a seat in her living room while the other 20 or so guests arrive. Settled in with a glass of wine we listen to Christy and another local musician play traditional music and regale the gathering with stories that trace Irish traditional music from the times it was banned by the Catholic Church until modern times. Shiela serves smoked salmon and various cheeses. It is great fun and an enjoyable 90 minutes which flys by.

    We leave there and head to Fitz’s for a night cap and a bit of food - Laurie’s love of smoked salmon isn’t as strong and she’s still a bit peckish. A traditional Irish trio is playing there and we catch a few songs while we dine on pub food.
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  • Day7

    Half Door and Music

    September 11, 2018 in Ireland ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    There is nothing like sharing your breakfast time with the cows in the field next door. All of us grazing away happily. Bambury’s Guest House is lovely as is Dingle.

    The morning is nice as we head out to travel the “Dingle Loop” - a much smaller tour then the Ring of Kerry. Dingle as a town is much nicer than Killarney but the Ring of Kerry is much more scenic. We complete the loop in an hour and then head out for a walk to the lighthouse at the harbours entrance a 6 km out and back with lovely views of the harbour and an old Norman fortification.

    We take a quick, late lunch at John Benny’s, grab a few groceries and when we head out it is pouring rain so we high tail it back to Bambury’s and relax for the balance of the afternoon because tonight is music and fine dining.

    Dinner is at the Half Door and it is spectacular, I start with the Lobster Bisque and then move on to the salmon - both outstanding. Laurie has the steak and you can cut it with a fork it is so tender. We pair the meal with a Burgundy Cote de Beaune and it works with such diverse choices. Laurie’s pavlova is as good as she can remember.

    After dinner we head to the Dingle Pub for some Irish music and then bar hop to John Benny’s for another set; while all of the duo’s we have seen so far have been fiddle/guitar this duo is accordion/guitar and the sound works surprisingly well. After some time we manage to make our way home.
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  • Day6

    Ring of Kerry

    September 10, 2018 in Ireland ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Today is Monday, I find on holidays it is important to remind yourself of that fact every so often. The forecast calls for intermittent rain. We look forward to the intermittent parts as we leave Killarney at 7:30AM.

    We are driving the Ring of Kerry today. We are following the Rick Steeves method - leave early and go the opposite direction of the big tour buses. By doing so, Rick asserts we will avoid encountering any of them; as they cannot travel on the lower loop - the Skellig Ring.

    Much of the Ring of Kerry is amazing seascapes but the first part takes you through Killarney national park up and through Mol’s gap - lakes and mountains. We stop in Kenmare for breakfast at the quaint Jam Cafe before venturing back out again.

    As we drive along the south coast of the Iveragh Peninsula, the scenery is spectacular, the cloud ceiling is reasonably high and the rain is mostly stopped. As we head up the Coomakista Pass we encounter a flock of sheep grazing at the “side” of the road and since there are no real sides it means they are on the road, eating bits of grass, wandering along - where’s Tucker?

    When we head over the mountain, we arrive in Waterville and stop for a coffee at the Butler Arms Hotel and gaze out at the Ballinskelligs bay. Charlie Chaplin made Waterville his home for a period of time and the statue commemorates that fact.

    Shortly afterwards we leave the main ring - no tour buses encountered and hit the Skellig Ring. Skellig Michael is a remote shard of land seven miles off the coast where 6th century monks eked out an existence preserving civilization. They lived there for five hundred years in beehive stone buildings eating fish and sea birds, growing root vegetables and supporting a few goats for milk. Today it is a favourite of Star Wars fans as it is the scene of the latest Star Wars films. Ironically? fittingly? the last Jedi lives there. On a clear day, with much planning, you can take a tour of the island or around the island.

    We head to the self proclaimed “best cliffs in Kerry” and are not disappointed. An enterprising family have opened up a section of their land and have created lovely pathways right up to the cliffs edges. The views really are spectacular, it is not raining thankfully but the winds are fierce. I can’t imagine what it is like here in winter - although it doesn’t get to minus 40.

    A wee bit later we drive onto Valentia Island, visit the Skellig Experience, and have lunch at the Royal Valentia Hotel before catching a little ferry back to the main land. Shortly after that we hit the main ring, no buses - thanks Rick.

    The ring fort of Cahergal is our last stop. The fort was built around 600AD, it is approximately 50 metres wide and 6 metres high with walls 3 metres thick. it is built without any mortar. They didn’t have the precision of the Incas but it is still an amazing structure. They dot the landscape throughout western Ireland and were used for defensive purposes.

    We head on to Dingle and the Bambury Guest House. Dingle and Kinsale vie for the best food town in Ireland and we have a great meal at the Chart House. Some of our favourite food with artistic presentation - Laurie’s favourite meal of the trip so far.

    It is Monday, and Monday after summer is over, the bars are much quieter. We can not find any music so we head home and go to bed.
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  • Day5

    Relaxing Sunday

    September 9, 2018 in Ireland ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Today is a quiet Sunday as we sleep in a bit. It’s nearly 9AM by the time we work our way down stairs to the Jo’s bakery/cafe for breakfast. Yummy breakfast bun and cinnamon roll french toast! We have booked a walking tour with Barry, but it doesn’t start until 11:15, so we tour the shops and wander around Kinsale. Kinsale is a cute little seaside town with winding streets and colorful shops and houses.

    Barry is a local legend and highly thought of throughout Ireland. His nearly two hour tour of the history of Kinsale is fascinating. A natural harbour with favourable winds, Kinsale was the sight of the fourth Spanish Armada invasion who aligned with Irish rebels to kick the English out of Ireland. It failed and the key clans, most of whom were from Northern Ireland, were stripped of their land. The regifting of the land to Scottish and English is a major factor in the modern day split of Ireland. Kinsale is also where the Lusitania was sunk by the Germans in WWI. Much of the land is reclaimed as the river began silting up the inner harbour.

    Sadly we exit Kinsale and head to Cobh (“Cove”). It is a beautiful island town with an amazing Cathedral dominating the horizon. We have a picnic lunch at the harbour and make our way up to the cathedral. Cobh is also where the Titanic made its last stop before its fatal rendezvous with an iceberg.

    After leaving Cobh, we drive to our hotel in Killarney. Checked in, we go for a hike in Killarney National Park, check out the Abbey from 1541, and the gardens of Muckross House before heading to O’Connell’s pub and then dinner at Murphy Brownes - a restaurant formed by two foodies who’s last names are Murphy and Browne - there is no evidence of Candace Bergen anywhere. The meals are well prepared if not adventurous but the South African Leopards Leap Pinotage/Shiraz is very good.
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  • Day4

    Beyond the Pale

    September 8, 2018 in Ireland ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    I think Laurie may still be taping her toes after last nights play as we wake up and say goodbye to Dublin. We have our last breakfast at Trinity Townhomes and take a “My Taxi” (its like Uber but with taxi cabs) to the Hertz Rental car and pick up our VW Polo. We have rented many a Polo before while travelling in Europe. Laurie drives, I navigate - we’re both happy.

    We are heading “beyond the pale”, past the safe confines of Dublin and over the Wicklow mountains to Kinsale - we will stop twice along the way; first in Glendalough and then in Cashel.

    An hour out of Dublin, Glendalough is in the heart of the “mountains”, the tallest of which is an ear popping 800m above sea level. Nonetheless the area is lovely and was the home to one of the first monasteries in the world - founded in the 6th century by St Kevin (I find it anti climactic to even type St. Kevin, it sounds like a dude from California). The monastery continued for eleven hundred years, surviving Viking raids, plagues, Norman conquest until.... you guessed it.... Oliver Cromwell and the British came. There are still lots of ruins and being in the mountains some lovely hiking trails, lakes and waterfalls. It is one of six national parks in Ireland and well worth the stop and hike.

    Our second stop is ninety minutes further south and takes in even more winding and back roads. We were lucky to have good weather in Glendalough but our luck does not hold on the drive to Cashel.

    When you arrive on the outskirts of Cashel you are immediately struck by the fortified cathedral dominating the landscape. It is built on an escarpment on one half and fortified everywhere. It was destroyed by.... wait for it..... Oliver Cromwell and the British and stands in partial ruin. We take a guided tour and learn about the history of the castle/cathedral. When Cromwell and his parliamentarian gang conquered the castle they slaughtered all nine hundred people inside. Recent excavations have proven a baby was thrown down a well during that time period and records speak to the atrocities committed. It is said to be haunted but that has not been recorded or proven, but if ever a place.....

    We get back to our car and drive a final ninety minutes to Kinsale. We are staying at Jo’s Cafe and Rooms. It is Camino esque. Clean, simple, small. It is over a bakery. The smells in our room are incredible, is it chocolate chip cookies or maybe brownies, we will have to just wait until morning!

    Dinner tonight is at Fishy Fishy, the highly acclaimed restaurant of celebrity chef Martin Shanahan. A restaurant where the menu mentions both the fish and the fisherman. I have Sean Murphy’s monkfish, caught this morning; Laurie has steak. My fish is paired with a Chardonnay, Laurie’s steak a Malbec. The food is delicious, the atmosphere unpretentious, the service lacking. We wander 400 feet to our little B&B.
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