Travel to The Algarve, Portugal

Early in the morning I woke and took the tram to the bus station where I purchased a one way ticket to Lagos for 16 euros! Everyone told me to take the train but I wanted to take the cheaper route (they told me the buses would be gross). How wrong they were! Nicest bus I have ever been in my life. I sat beside a guy from Pittsburgh named Eddie and I slept most of the way zoomed over the giant bridge extending over the ocean (when I opened my eyes I screamed as I felt like I was on a roller coaster flying in space). Once we reached the other side of the ocean I saw hundreds of pink flamingos doing their one legged stand in the beach-marsh lands.

As we arrived closer to The Algarve I saw vast cork tree forests which always look a bit odd as they appear to be loosing their breaches. Several other farms of wine grapes and cattle grazing areas for bulls were also a highlight. There are what appears to be hundreds of golf courses throughout the Algarve as well as several huge water parks as this is the tourist capital of the Iberian Peninsula. Eddie had no place to stay so I told him to follow me and we arrived at the Cassa Amerila office to be greeted by a small lady smoking a cigarette. She didn’t speak a lick of English so we ended up staying in a private 2 person room for 15 euros each a night rather than my mixed dorm room booking. Maria is the owner, she is an architect and purchases old buildings and completely refurbishes them. This is not really a hostel as much as it is a collection of apartments throughout town. They are absolutely beautiful, new, clean and centrally located…all this for 15 euros makes me giggle with happiness. Eddie and I were starving so we did exactly what we shouldn’t have done and went on the boardwalk, the major touristy area and sat down to eat. I still haven’t learned my lesson about not eating in the touristy areas, they are always overpriced and unauthentic. We both ordered chicken piri piri an Algarve specialty known for BBQ chicken with hot sauce and rice. We received some BBQ thighs and wings and I actually felt the need to ask if I had been given the wrong thing. The waiter played stupid and I knew he had shafted us on the authentic cuisine I was after.

After this culinary fakedom and scandal I walked around the town to find some other restaurants for the next 5 days I will be staying here. There are many many Chinese, Indian and Portuguese restaurants with a handful of place’s specializing in seafood and pizza. The streets are lined with locals selling beautiful wooden and sea shell jewelry which I am planning on buying later in the week. My most exciting news of day was when I discovered there is a huge Portuguese Festival here for the entire time I am in Lagos. It is called Cineport and every day they play this years famous Portuguese movies from Portugal and Brazil at the local theater for FREE with English Subtitles. As you all know I was almost in heaven! I plan on going to two on Thursday at 9 and 11pm.

I then took a walk of the city and took pictures of all the famous monuments and spots that the tourist office had recommended. The town is surrounded by a tall medieval wall and is located right on the coast. There is a huge Florida style beach that is 5 miles long and curves like a question mark east. To the west are the Lagos known beautiful Grottos caves and jetted copper coloured landscapes. I visited San Antonio Church from the 15th century and also the castle which lies right on the beach. I choose the dinner spot tonight which was a Chinese restaurant on the top floor of a building in the city center that looks right over onto the entire beach front. The spot was quintessential Chinese with glowing red lanterns, plastic flower pots and eager waitresses. I had an Egg, Corn and Chicken soup, spring rolls, fried rice and sweet and sour chicken. Instead of getting a fortune cookie at the end of our meal the waitress offered each of us a shot of Portuguese Chinese Whisky. A contradiction in terms, I said thanks but no thanks.

I then walked home and watched TV (we have 59 channels, I feel like I am at the Ritz)! I watched Extreme Makeover Brazil Addition (SIDENOTE: I was very impressed to see how patriotic the Portuguese are of Brazil. Everywhere in the country you will see Portuguese and Brazilian flags flying together in harmony). I then turned on Inside the Actors Studio which was unfortunately dubbed in Portuguese but I watched it for 30 minutes anyways because Natalie Portman was being interviewed and she is lovely. I then attempted to go to bed…my room was a sauna of heat and there was pounding music consisting of bongo drums, an organ and a very loud singer. I blinked my eyes and realized it was midnight and I wasn’t going to get to bed anytime soon. I asked myself…Am I really a loser that I am in bed with all this partying going on outside? So I got my cloths back on in order to seek out this mysterious noise-music-fun. I walked towards the city square to find empty streets. Obviously I took the time to pose with the statue in the center of the square using my cameras timer function as it was a great opportunity to do some vogue shots without the embarrassment brought on by onlookers. Locals were busy in the streets on ladders putting up banners and hundreds of flags and streamers in support of their national team at the World Cup (being in Europe and GERMANY of all places this summer for the World Cup should prove to be a bit crazy). I finally found the noise…the explanation is simple. I thought the festival was just for film but I now understand that it is a music festival as well. I walked about 1 minute past my own building and found a huge square with about 5 thousand people jumping and bumping to a very lively Portuguese band. I suddenly felt embarrassed as it was 1am and the entire crowd was mostly made up of women and men over 60 years old with a beer in their hands. How had I been out-cooled by senior citizens? Never again will I go to bed at midnight!

The next morning I woke up to Chinese music. The sun had illuminated the room and I realized my next door neighbors are huge fans of screaming Chinese opera. I walked down to the Marina and booked a 2 hour sail tour of the famous Lagos Grottos. The total trip cost 15 euros a wonderful price point! The sailboat was huge and let down its sails once we were out of the harbor. We sailed along the coast to the tip where I could spot Northern Africa (with the help of the skipper of course). We then got off the big boat into a small motor boat in order to weave in and out of the caves and grottos on the shore. The waves were fun to say the least and my skin smelled and felt like I had been rubbed with salt. The different Grottos have been named by fisherman and sailors through the last hundred years or so with affectionate and funny names. I recall seeing an elephant trunk, toilet bowl, skull and living room!

On the walk back from the hot day under the blue sky I popped into the marketplace and purchased an amazing bag of coconut cookies that can be found all over the Algarve as they are a specialty. I finished one bag in an hour so I need to purchase more in the morning. For dinner I made myself Spaghetti Bolognaise and drank a few 20 cent beers as I continued to read my current novel. In the evening I had a full out splurge movie night! How fitting is it that I am in one of the most beautiful places on earth and have access to this years best Portuguese films from Portugal and Brazil for free every evening! Thursday night I went to see two movies and was very impressed by the organization and the turn out of actors and directors from each film that introduced them with much glee (I met the director of City of God which is my claim to fame, I basically sat beside him and asked him if he was traveling. He tells me NO I’m a director…that got my attention!) I saw my first movie at 6pm which was so nice as the sun and heat was killer outside. The film is called Veda de Menina and is from Brazil. The film reminds me of Anne of Green Gables as the main character is a young red haired freckled girl who has wild ideas and writes in a diary. The movie is based on a famous book written by the main character in the film about her interesting childhood as her father’s family was rich and her family was very poor because her dad wasted his life searching for diamonds. The second film was at 9pm and entitled Odete. Unfortunately this film lacked English subtitles, but I had heard so many great things about the movie I decided to stay and figure out what the story was about. It truly is amazing how you can watch an entire film in a foreign language and leave the theater moved and satisfied. The story is from Portugal and takes place in Lisbon and tells the story of a man who is killed in a car crash and the people who knew him and how they are effected. The film truly is bazaar as the dead mans female neighbor believes she is carrying the dead mans child, even though he was gay and they never talked. A great evening in the cinema experiencing Portuguese film!

Friday morning I took a walk along the coastline in search of the perfect beach for me to bake at for a few hours. The coastline trail is high up on the cliffs and you can take pictures of great panoramic views. I felt like somewhat of a daredevil as I walked over some natural limestone bridges that were literally a mile above the beach bellow and a foot wide! The sand was incredibly coarse almost like glass at some spots but I managed to find an excellent little beach nestled in between two giant grottos. This beach was located at the very tip of the coast at the famous Pointa da Piedade. I found a nice spot and lay down staring directly up at a perfect blue sky with pink flamingos flying overhead and white clouds swirling in the distance. I felt as though I was staring at the heavens through a straw as 360 degrees around me stood hundreds of feet of sharp cliffs.

An hour later after closing my eyes and baking under the sun I felt water on my toes and jumped up. The tide had quickly come into shore and I was in a serious dilemma. I had gone off the beaten track and the spot I had crossed to get here was now almost completely submerged in water. I was almost trapped so I used my Indiana Jones think tank and gathered my things quickly and headed to the edge of the half moon beach that I now had to cross. I studied the wave patterns in order to best run across the sand to avoid being crushed into the cliff face. One, two, three. I ran and almost made it until my body was whacked by a giant wave just before I made it to the other side. I was met with an applause of about 100 people who were tanning on the PROPER safe beach in front of a wonderful bar. A man thought I was so heroic and asked if I would let him buy me a drink. I said Hells Yes as I slowly calmed down and realized I was alive and well. My life is full of interesting adventures it seems, no better place in the world to almost die than on a beautiful beach in Lagos Portugal!

I came back to Mary’s little office for Casa Amerila to ask her for directions to Tugos her recommended Portuguese restaurant in town. Her office has the ambiance only described in a Dickens novel. The entire place is jam packed full of antiques and the walls are decorated from top to bottom with 18th century fans from Spain, England, China and Japan. Mary absolutely loves me. She pinches my cheeks and nose and hugs me constantly. She likes to call me herself my Portuguese mother, I think that’s great because she gives me free cake! Mary introduced me to two new girls from Auz who have just arrived and we were off together as a big group of six people to investigate this restaurant for dinner. The two Auz girls are a lot of fun. They are traveling for 9 months! They have been to India and Thailand thus far and are spending several months in Europe. I thought I was traveling for a long time! How wrong was I? This restaurant is amazing, sitting in here with all the locals chatting away I felt right at home. I ordered Picca Pork which is an egg based breaded pork fillet. This all for 6.90 euros and you wouldn’t believe the portion sizes! I honesty have never been fed this much food at one sitting in my entire life (and that includes all of my adventures in America, the kings of excessive portion sizes)! My plate was LITERALLY the size of a Thanksgiving Turkey Plate. I had a huge salad on the left hand side, a mountain of spiced rice, a basket of French fries on the right hand side and SEVEN pork cutlets each the size of my shoes! I was so stuffed and we all couldn’t stop laughing and taking pictures of our plates as it was more comical than anything to register how much food was sitting in front of each of us! I had 4 cutlets left over so grabbed my zip lock bag and took them home for a late night snack.

We all slowly walked to the theater as our stomachs burst at the seams and saw Alice a film from Portugal that takes place in the city of Lisboa. The film had no subtitles so again I was challenging myself to understand what was going on in the film. The story was the typical lost child drama. A daughter disappears and the entire film shows the parents angst and hopelessness as they constantly search for her every day. At the end of the movie instead of finding his daughter the father realizes in a park that the kidnapper actually shaved his daughter’s hair to make her look like a little boy. I love plot twists like that. We all ran to the closest bar after the movie for a late night drink and met the craziest bartender in the world. He was dressed entirely from head to toe in Brazilian memorabilia. I think he may be routing for Brazil this week during the world cup. He made us all kiss his Brazilian flag which he wore as a cape and he danced around screaming Brazilian gibberish. The entire bar was fluorescent so our teeth all looked like they were glowing. We all sat on a big bench and experienced another fit of public snogging. A couple right beside us clocked in at 38 minutes of non stop snogging. We were staring at this couple wondering how they were breathing.

Saturday morning I walked back to the grotto beach and chose a new smaller beach that I thought would be nice as I’d have a lot of privacy. How wrong was I. I get down the 100 stairs to the beach front and realize that in a cave are about 20 homeless men and women with their companion dogs. As soon as they saw me they started screaming at me. Apparently they own that beach and I didn’t see the sign. I ran as fast as I could up those stairs and never looked back. Back into the city center I was on the search for Lagos’ only authentic Portuguese bakery. It wasn’t at all hard to find as I followed my nose and saw a huge line up of little old Portuguese ladies waiting to pick up their baked goods for the day. I then walked to the main square and took advantage of the cloudy periods to sit and read more of my book. It appears that I attract weirdoes where ever I sit, visit or appear to be at any point in time. About 10 Portuguese clowns chose to sit right beside me as I sat reading and really creeped me out as they started throwing bread at me. All I can do now is laugh at the ridiculous sight that must have been!

The tanning clock was ticking so I decided to make my first visit to long beach. This 5 mile beach looks over the open turquoise ocean and along the beach many little bars and restaurants can be found to quench your thirst and appetite. I sufficiently burned myself again, possibly one day I will tan properly. I then took a walk to Shaker Bar as it advertises free internet to those who are paying customers. I bought a 1 euro draft beer and sat for about an hour checking the 25 emails I received in the last 4 days! The bar had so much character I felt like I was in a movie. The place was packed with locals staring, transfixed on the plasma screen showing the Sweden vs Trinidad footy match. Every goal I heard screams of excitement from the crowd around me. The man next to me was seedy and looked grudgingly at me when I did not cheer so I started to pipe little cheers every time everyone else cheered in order to appease him. I walked from the bar through town and watched an amazing cultural show from Mozambique (the festival continues outside of the theater). The square was filled with brightly dressed dancers and actors acting out a famous battle. The drums pounded and everyone cheered as tourists (including myself) snapped as many pictures as possible. I made my own dinner again, pasta a la Andrew. I purchased a bag of shredded PASTA cheese and was perplexed when I read that the Pasta cheese was in fact shredded Emmental. Who on earth puts Emmental on pasta…Portugal is weird.

On the topic of Portuguese food…I have decided that Portugal does not have a cuisine. Rather they have food: steak, grilled sardines, fried snails and fried chicken. It is as if a cuisine never developed. They lack creativity and simply sustain themselves by eating copious amounts of food at each sitting. I prefer quality and ingenuity over quantity. It is as if the Portuguese chefs never evolved their pallets and creations into dishes with sauces, spices and lore. I will remember Portugal for its beautiful beach’s, cheap food and lovely jewelry…no gastronomic tour here. This evening I planned on hanging out by the pier to take a few excellent pictures of the sun set over the ocean and beach. I think I am clearly an invalid as I was completely unable to find the sun. Only when you are looking for something can you not find it. After walking all over town to find the sun setting I settled for a dock that had an excellent view of the shimmering moon. Within 20 minutes the city had gone from bright light to dark black. The city by night, white full moon, shimmering water and glowing castle…a perfect evening hang out.

My final day in Lagos was spent doing my favorite activity when on the solo: people watching. It is amazing how time fly’s when you are staring at people. I walked to the tip of the pier and sat down staring at the huge green rocks bellow. It seems so odd that the sound of ocean waves artfully passing over and caressing boulders in such a rhythmic way can be so transfixing. I then stared at a group of local boys and girls who appeared to be having some sort of diving competition. I got up and walked down to the beach at the start of the pier and found my favorite entertainment of the day. A simple stray dog, who knew it could provide such amusement. This dog was HILARIOUS. It acted as though possessed in its vigor to dig through the sandy beach to China. I noticed it run onto the beach initially and by the time I left the hole was honestly the size of a Honda Civic. All of the beach goers had also come to adore this wild pooch who comically barked at the waves whenever they got to close to his holy hole. Eventually the waves prevailed and the hole was filled with murky salt water. The dog however did not give up, as for the next hour the dog sought to remove all water from the hole every time the waves filled it up again. The dog perhaps bored with his stellar and gigantic hole moved two feet north and started digging an entirely new hole. At this point I wondered if the dog was not actually insane but actually searching for diamonds, gold or perhaps the biggest bone on earth. To end all moments, just before I left I noticed a group of 7 very fat ladies standing where the beach meets the waves preparing themselves for a nice group photo. They were all smiling away from the open ocean into the camera one of their husbands had in his hands…and in seconds…CRASH! They were hit by a huge wave that pummeled them into the sand. I can’t get the brilliant picture out of my mind as I saw chubby little ladies with their feet in the air looking as though they had been pranked by their obnoxious 5 year olds. I laughed all the way back to my room. I spent the late afternoon finishing Angels and Demons. I really enjoyed the book and was so glad to finally finish a pleasure read! It had been so long! University always gets in the way, or perhaps my priorities do! For dinner I went back to the American Breakfast joint to have their special of the day. For 4.50 euro I had a 1/2 chicken with a pile of French fries on the side. I chomped down on the grub and stared at the footy match (Iran vs Mexico) being displayed on the TV affixed to the top right corner of the room.

Monday morning I packed up my things and set out to purchase a bag of Coconut cakes to take with me to London. I then hopped on the one hour bus to Faro, the Capital of the Algarve and home of the airport in which I would be flying out of. The day was hot and I was carrying a mother load of stuff on my back (including 4 bottles of wine for my stay in London). I was awake at 5am as my room mate had to catch an early bus to Sevilla. I can never get back to bed so I put my last frozen pizza in the oven and ate it at 7am (how odd you say…), and then ate my last ice cream bar at 8am (even more odd). I packed up my things and headed out of my little humble room at 9:30am and headed to the courtyard outside the castle looking over the port and plumped myself under a big shady palm tree. I rested there for an hour or so and then walked to the bus station (on the way purchasing my last bag of Bolo de Coco (coconut cakes). I waited at the bus station for the 12:15 bus to Faro and had an entertaining hour or so watching the crazy Room Witches (as they are called by the locals). About five ladies sit at the bus station all day and wait for new arrivals. As soon as the bus arrives they run to the front door and hound tourists asking if they need a room. They run around like rats and scream like cats at each other…entertaining to say the least.

Two hours later I arrived in Faro and a lovely lady who had been sitting behind me on the bus offered to walk around the city with me as she had four hours to kill waiting for a doctor’s appointment. Faro sucks. She kept on saying Faro is Blah…she didn’t speak very good English but I was able to understand her gagging / barfing body language. Two interesting sites I saw: the city looks out onto the ocean but rather than an ocean it is a salt water marsh and swamp with hundreds of islands spanning several miles. This area is called the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa and is a very interesting wildlife habitat reserve. The Largo do Carmo is the famous church that everyone comes to see. It literally means Church of Bones. The church is built entirely of human bones. The chapel is eerie as skulls stare out at you and you can see leg and arm bones held together by cement…an interesting spot to have a wedding I dare say. I walked back to the bus station passing the huge marina where instead of sailboats (like Lagos) I found a den of monster motorboats! Faro is for thrill seekers apparently. I hopped on the Airport bus and waited at the Airport for 4 hours! I felt gross, tired and as if at any second I may sublimate into thin air. Waiting for an Easyjet flight is always a thrill. About 50 people were standing in front of the huge screen that listed the check in desks for each departure flight. As soon as Faro to London Gatwick appeared at Gate 5 and 6 there was a mad dart to the front of the check in counter. Literally people claw at each other to get first in line. I ran like no tomorrow and almost tripped on my sandals but I am proud to say my ticket said 001! I was the FIRST person to get on that flight (If you are wondering, people scramble to get first in line as Easyjet is open seating and whoever gets there first gets first pick of their seat). Off the plane at 11:20pm and arrived at Victoria Station via the train at 12:37pm. I think I arrived at Noelles apartment at 1am or so…I felt as though I was going to die from exhaustion but then again that’s what the bed is for!

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