Hello… from Canada, my friends. From Ottawa where we landed on Monday evening, and where we’ve been trying to settle in for several days now. From Manotick, where I’ve been waking up early and sipping my morning tea as I watch the geese sail about on the river. Where I’ve been doing mounds of laundry. And trying to ignore the month’s worth of dust on the furniture, eschewing the vacuum cleaner in favour of pouring a second cup of tea and settling down with a book. Truth be told, both Hubby and I are tired. Travel takes it out of us. So we’ve been pacing ourselves. Taking our time to settle into our life here at home.
And that’s always hard after an extended trip. Homecomings can be a bit unsettling. Like an out of body experience. Jet lag can do that, of course. But still, it’s like we’ve been beamed up (à la Star Trek) to another space and time continuum. I’m happy to be home, sleeping in my own bed, making tea in my own teapot, and talking to my sister on the phone. But I wake up in the predawn darkness and have no idea where I am. My head and my heart are still in Portugal. And I kind of miss my morning cup of Portuguese coffee and my daily quota of pastéis de nata.
The last time I posted we were wrapping up our stay at Casinhas Da Levada in the village of Sobreda on the edge of Peneda-Gerês National Park. What a find that place was! I’ll tell you more about our favourite accommodations in a later post. But I warn you, this post is going to be a long one. Better brew up a whole pot of tea.
When we reluctantly left Sobredo behind, we headed to the Douro Valley and Pinhão. We had some stern discussions with our GPS on that day. She wanted to send us in directions we did not want to go, on big highways which we wanted to avoid. Part of the problem was that there was no easy way to get from where we were on the edge of the park, through the park, to where we wanted to be.
Hubby spent some considerable time the night before studying our paper map finding a possible route we might take. And we duly made a list of small towns, which we then plugged into our GPS, so she would guide us onto the smaller roads. Our efforts to “control” the GPS lady worked a treat… that day. And we might have become a teensy bit cocky. As was evidenced a few days later. Ha. Suspenseful music here, folks.
Still, the drive took us a fair bit longer than we’d hoped. And it was late afternoon before we glimpsed the hills, vines, and fantastic views of the Douro Valley.
The Douro Valley is breathtaking. But we’d only booked one night at Pinhão. We did not want to do a dinner cruise on the river or take a wine-tasting tour. I know. I’m sure we missed something special. I’m sure we missed all kinds of special things on this trip. But we made choices according to our “travel personality,” and what we were most interested in doing. And for this part of the trip that was driving through the countryside. Walking when the spirit moved us. Eating packed lunches perched on rocky outcroppings, or in picnic sites. And staying off the big highways and away from crowds.
We had an amazing dinner in Pinhão that night at Cozinha da Clara. And we were up early and ready to see the rest of the valley the next morning.
There must have been something special in the monkfish I had for dinner the night before because I was having an exceptionally good hair day on our “Douro Drive” day. And one cannot miss the opportunity of taking a selfie of good hair when it happens. Because it happens so seldom when I’m travelling.
I was pleased that I was able to get the train into the shot above. That orange engine adds just the right pop of colour to the landscape, don’t you think? I made Hubby stop so I could get a shot of this old church in Arcozelos, below. I wondered what its story was. It’s derelict and mostly destroyed inside, but not abandoned. The graveyard is well tended. In fact, I took the second photo through the gate left open by a woman carrying flowers to leave on a grave.
Hills and narrow twisty roads seemed to be a theme on this trip. We walked hills and narrow streets in Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto… and we’d been driving them ever since. In fact on one day, when the road took us through a small, hilly village, Hubby made me get out and walk ahead down a steep hill and around the corner between two stone houses at the bottom to make sure the road went that way. He was afraid he’d drive down the hill and end up in someone’s backyard. He did NOT want to have to reverse back up that hill, he said.
It was a beautiful day of driving. We were able to find our way down through the Serra da Estrela Park as Hubby hoped we might. We ate a roadside lunch and took photos of the amazing scenery, of boulders everywhere, even boulders perched on other boulders like giant Inukshuks. And just when we thought we were finally done with the twisty roads… our GPS looked like this. Ha.
But we successfully navigated the rest of the turns, found the unpaved road to our accommodation, and fetched up at Villa Regadio, set into the hilly farmland above Covilhã. Here we stayed for two nights. I’ll tell you more about this place in the post I’ll be doing on our favourite accommodations in Portugal.
After two nights with Sandra at Villa Regadio, we headed for Évora. The landscape after Covilhã seemed to change dramatically. It was flat and dusty, with stunted spikey trees, olive groves, stork nests, and unhappy looking cattle. Not to mention the half-naked cork trees with numbers scrawled on their sides to indicate when the tree’s bark had been harvested. We thought that was pretty cool. And, then, to our chagrin, there were the two bridges closed for repairs. Two. The resulting detours cost us an extra hour and made for an unhappy host when we finally arrived in Évora, despite my phone call saying that we would be delayed. You see, here is the problem that can arise when we are asked to pinpoint what time we will arrive at our destination. Driving unfamiliar roads, in an unfamiliar country means we really have no idea how long a journey will take us. Despite the often decidedly optimistic estimation of our GPS. Several times, as we drove that day, even the GPS lady changed her mind about when we would arrive. Ha.
This photo (below right) taken of the olive trees and the village of Figueira e Barros in the distance meant we just had to stop to take a closer look at the sweet blue and white church. That’s what’s so great about making our own way around, along secondary roads. We can say, “Let’s stop here or there to have a closer look.” And there’s no one to mind. Except the already angry host in Évora. Ah well, I know she had her schedule to keep. And asking tourists to meet at a specific time at the apartment must be a mug’s game.
Still, we eventually did arrive in Évora. Found parking, walked to the apartment in the very old part of town, walked back to collect our bags, and went with the host to park our car. Then after grocery shopping, and wine-buying, we were happy to make our dinner, put our feet up, and relax in our own special little part of historic Évora. Our tiny apartment was delightful. As was Évora. We stayed here for three nights, and spent the days walking, eating, gaping, and loving everything we saw. From the old city walls, to the aqueduct, to the Roman ruins, the old churches, and especially the amazingly ornate roof of the Évora Cathedral which put us in mind of Château de Chambord in the Loire in France.
After Évora, we headed south west to Lagos and the Algarve. Or so we thought. Ha. Our GPS lady was going to have her revenge today. The problem with trying to micromanage technology like our GPS is that when one does not know all the bits of a country, like the provinces in which towns exist, and which province is east or west or what, one is likely to choose the wrong town. And go almost completely in the wrong direction. And when one is yammering with one’s spouse, and enjoying the scenery, one is unlikely to notice this… for hours. Yep. We were like the lady a few years ago who set out to fly to Sydney, Australia and ended up in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada. Big difference, people. Ha.
But, if we hadn’t gone out of our way that day, we’d never have seen this old windmill. Never have driven up this gravel road with only one small farm nearby. With no one home, it seemed. We’d never have walked up this hill to get a closer look. And we’d never have stood on that hill with no one around, only the wind and sky and history. We saw other windmills later in the trip. But they were not as special as this one. This one was our windmill.
So eventually we made it to Lagos and our lovely guest house. We were there for three nights. We walked the Ponta da Piedade along the cliffs, walked the beach on a very windy day. Napped and read on the day it rained. And ate salt cod… again.
As a Maritimer, where cod was plentiful and cheap when I was a child, I do not have good things to say about salt cod. I remember it from my childhood, baskets of it sitting on the sidewalk outside of small grocery stores. All curled up, and smelling to high heavens. I think that Maritimers see salt cod as the food of poverty and desperation. Walking by the fish section of Portuguese grocery stores took me back, I must say. In fact, I think there’s a blog post there… about food.
Hubby and I cannot understand why the Portuguese love salt cod so much. But they do. We had several meals of salt cod in restaurants… just to try to understand what all the fuss was about. A couple of these meals were very bad. One was lovely. But despite that one lovely meal, I have not changed my opinion of salt cod. Ha.
When we left Lagos, we had one more interesting journey to make. We drove down to Sagres and out to the most southwesterly point of Portugal, and of mainland Europe, at Cabo de São Vicente. The ocean was wild that day. The rain and high winds of the day before, and the continuing winds that day, made for what the weather office was calling a “coastal event.” The waves were pretty spectacular.
Then we drove north along the coast roads and visited a couple of beautiful beaches. Like this one.
Where the tiny café was almost empty. And we could sit and watch the surf.
And I tried a new and interesting take on the hotdog. The cachorrinho was served in a bun with onions (which I declined), sweet corn, grated carrot, and “crisps.” We used to call these potato sticks when I was a kid. But whatever. I tried it. And it was pretty good. I’ll admit, I did add ketchup. The crisps in the bun reminded me of the first time Hubby and I saw a couple of teenagers in Yorkshire eat a chip butty. Interesting. Worth trying once. But not something we’d make a habit of eating. Probably how most non-Canadians view poutine.
Anyway. I don’t want to belabour this post. After a couple of beach views we headed directly for our last stay (aside from the airport hotel in Lisbon.) Naturarte Rio is described as a “boutique hotel.” But we stayed in a small one-bedroom unit, one of seven, with a patio that looked out over low hills and trees, and a pool, and barbeque area, and even a pen of farm animals. The little black pigs were adorable. This place exuded the perfect vibe for our last days in Portugal.
We walked the trails on the property. Ate breakfast on our terrace. Read our books. And ordered our dinner to be delivered from the much larger sister-site nearby. At less then 18 Euros per person for soup, salad, main course, and dessert… it was a true “meal deal,” to quote MacDonald’s. The food was delicious. We had a bottle of Douro vinho tinto, and good coffee to follow. Sigh. This was, in fact, the perfect end to our trek through Portugal. Slow, quiet, delicious, and scenic.
So. We’re home now, my friends. I’m happy to be here. But still… part of my head, and part of my heart is back in Portugal. The quiet places we found there were some of the quietest places we’ve ever experienced. The people we met there were some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met. Most Portuguese people cannot do enough to help you.
From the hosts in our various accommodations, Sandra in Covilhã and Sergio in Sobredo, to the waiters in restaurants, to the young manager in a coffee shop in a town I can’t remember who followed us outside to the terrace to see if we liked our coffees and stayed to chat and practise his English. To the fellow customers in grocery stores who laughingly tried to help us figure out how to weigh our vegetables. Or the two men who almost missed their own train when they tried to help Hubby get his ticket to work in the machine at Rossio Station in Lisbon. We were met with kindness and smiles wherever we went. That kind of makes me tear up, you know.
Then there are the other travellers we met. The German couples in Lagos. Richard, a fellow Canadian, in Lisbon. The lovely couple from Dubai in a restaurant in Coimbra. She is a specialist in “sustainability” and advises companies on how to be more environmentally responsible, and he is a wine-buyer. How interesting is that?
Of course I mustn’t forget the large table full of middle-aged Dutchmen who sat beside us at a restaurant in Lisbon. They were loud and boisterous. But we were outside, and it was a beautiful warm evening. They occasionally broke into song, complete with harmony. It was hilarious. “Were they a men’s choir?” we wondered. Meanwhile we had fallen into conversation with the guy who sat alone at the next table. He was from Toronto, and we were having a great conversation on the future of education. I know. In a street cafe in Lisbon! And eventually the Dutchmen asked us where we were from. When we said we were from Canada, they shouted, “Canadians! Canadians!” and then they exploded into song. Gad. I’m smiling as I write this. The Dutch still love Canada, even though the memory of Canadian soldiers liberating Holland at the end of the second world war must be fading.
But that encounter. Or any of the encounters we had with so many people in the last four weeks. The discussion about the state of healthcare in Portugal with the doctor in Porto who tended to Hubby’s foot. Or the one with the girl from Brazil who worked at the reception desk in our apartment building in Lisbon, and who admitted that she was homesick. Aren’t all those encounters part of the reason we travel? To see new things. Try new foods. Experience new environments. But also to meet new people. To find out how others live in other parts of the world.
We always come home from trips with a stash of memories. Memories of grand buildings and stunning landscapes, of course. But also memories of people, and of smiles, and of stories.
So, finally I have written myself out. After more than two weeks of only posting on Instagram, I had lots of pent up stories to tell. I have more to say about our trip. About my failed packing planning. About the wonderful accommodations we found. And maybe a bit about the whole idea of travel at a time when the world is in such distress in so many places.
But for now, I’ll just say goodnight. I think I have a last load of drying that needs folding before I go to bed.
Or maybe it can wait until morning.
Now, how about you my friends? We’re all in a different places in our lives. Maybe you’ve some travel plans of your own? What likes, dislikes, needs, or desires guide your choices when you travel? Or maybe travel is something you can only dream of at the moment. Maybe you want to weigh in about that. Go ahead we’re listening.