Saturday, February 29, 2020

THE ALGARVE, PORTUGAL

Viktoriya was waiting impatiently on the curb as we pulled into Tavira Garden, right on the dot of 4:00.  She said we could arrive between 3:00 and 4:00 and, not knowing how long our drive from Sagres would take, we didn't commit, wisely as it turned out.  Our rental car was programmed to take us to Tavira, but for some reason kept wanting us to return to where we'd come from. Is there such a thing as GPS for Dummies?  Thinking we had lots of time to drive the 140 KMS, we took the slow route along N125, stopping to explore Lagos and Praia da Rocha along the way, previous haunts from another time when we free-camped our way across the Algarve.  Much has changed in those 27 years, mainly tourist development, but the scenery is still awesome.

Sagres, on the southwestern tip of Portugal

Free campers in Sagres

Cape St. Vincent


Praca Gil Eanes, Lagos

Praia da Rocha


As Viktoriya, the housekeeper, whisked us through our orientation of the four-floor, two bedroom apartment, she paused occasionally to make a point."This button, DO NOT TOUCH, understand?  If you do, the hot water goes off, understand?"   Back in the kitchen, she shows us the washing machine.  "Use only this detergent, understand?  Do not push any buttons, only 'push and wash' blue button, understand?" We certainly hoped we understood; we didn't want to have to contact her to tell her we screwed up!  I should have asked her where the beach towels were.....there weren't any....but most everything else we could want was, including a welcome package of wine, beer, water, bread, cheese and milk, along with other items left by recent guests.  We stocked up on groceries at the nearby Mini Preco and the Continente supermercado, and quickly decided to extend our stay to two weeks.

The sun hits the deck by 8:00, perfect for breakfast, and the tennis court is almost always free (and free).




Although Tavira is on a river, there are plenty of accessible beaches nearby.  A 20-minute ferry ride takes you to Ilha de Tavira, where you can stroll the six-mile long sandbar, a seashell scavenger's paradise.  You can access Barril Beach, on the same island, by crossing the coastal inlet over a bridge and hiking about a mile along a nature trail, or catch a cutsy tourist train.


Salt production in Tavira dates from the 4th century

Barril Beach, big waves, cool water

Tourist train to Barril Beach
We've been to a number of other beaches while here, long sandy ones such as Monte Gordo (strange name as there's no mountain, fat or otherwise), Manta Rota, but it's too cold to swim in February.  Here are views from the nearby village of Cacela Velha, set amongst orange groves.






Of course we've explored Tavira too, and found a restaurant near the Old Roman Bridge, Os Arcos, where we've ordered the prato do dia, sitting on the terrace.  If you climb to the castle garden, you're rewarded with views all over town and to the sea.
We were here during Carnaval, a tame version of the one in Rio, but witnessed the children's costume parade in the Praca da Republica.



Church of Misericordia and part of castle wall, Tavira


"Treasury" rooftops, Tavira


We took several day trips, one to Vila Real de Santo Antonio, a city on the Guadiana River, on the border with Spain.


Another day to Olhao, the largest fishing village on the Algarve,  just outside of Faro, where we saw "Bom Sucesso" a replica of a 65 foot ship that 17 fishers sailed to Brazil in 1808, taking three months, and with no navigational aids, to advise the exiled king that Napoleon had been defeated and it was safe to come home!
Old building in Olhao



Caique "Bom Sucesso"

Truth be known, Jim is not crazy about wandering around in strange cities, so he was much happier when we explored a section of the Ria Formosa Natural Park just outside of Olhao.  This is an area encompassing 60 kms along the Eastern coast of the Algarve, from Manta Rota in the east to Ancao in the west, including Ilha de Tavira.  It is made up of sand dunes, shallow lagoons, salt marshes, channels, tidal flats and islets. It's a vital refuge for birds, especially waterfowl, who arrive to winter or stop off while migrating to Africa.  You can find ducks (wigeon, shoveler, teal and pochard); egrets and waders (dunlin, bar-tailed godwit, curlew and grey plover.) The poster bird is the purple gallinule, where this is its only breeding ground in Portugal.


Purple gallinule

Old tide Mill, used water trapped in the tidal pool to grind grain



 Egrets on a freshwater pond 



We explored the idea of taking a bus trip to Seville but they are limited this time of year and start in Lagos, so all seats were booked while we were here.  It's a good idea to book in advance if you want to travel to Spain!  However, yesterday we drove to the town of Alcoutim about 50 kms from here, located on the Guadiana River a short ferry ride across to the small town of Sanlucar de Guadiana.  The return fare was €2.5 each and the trip took no more than five minutes.  We spent about three hours exploring the town, part of Andalucia, with its steep hills up to the church and across to its windmills before enjoying lunch on the patio of Asado Nuevo San Marcos.  I had dorada and wine, Jim had a burger and beer for a total €16.40.

Though the restaurant was not busy when we arrived, about 1:30, it quickly filled up with locals and tourists celebrating Andalucia Day.   There is no predicting when people will eat when you're in a foreign country.



From Sanlucar, looking back at Alcoutim

Spanish windmill

Sanlucar from Alcoutim

Spanish sheep

Alcoutim, Portugal

Today is our last one in Portugal before flying home, and the first time since Lisbon we've awoken to clouds.  We can not complain!

We escaped the rain and ate our last meal at a small bistro on Rua da Silva das Salinas, where a few inside tables were packed with tourists from Canada and Britain.  Tapas at last!  We shared a plate of chourico (a whole sausage grilled on a small counter-top charcoal burner, then sliced) and a plate of biqueirao (European sardines in olive oil and garlic) served with garlic toast.
Image result for biqueirão

Viktoriya called by this morning to check on a problem with the kitchen fan.  She has been a lot friendlier since realizing we were not going to be ugly tourists.

Adeus Viktoriya and Portugal.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

MADEIRA

As idyllic as shipboard life is, we were happy to get two days on land, exploring Funchal and doing some hiking on a levada.  A little background on the island, an autonomous region of Portugal and the outermost region of the EU: . Discovered 1419 by Portuguese navigators, colonized for the hardwood the Island is named for; later wealth came from sugar, today wine and banana exports.

Funchal, the capital, has a population of 130,000, named for the fennel plant found here.  We were here two years ago when we enjoyed a half-day tour; this time we opted to explore on our own.  It's quite a walkable city, especially along the waterfront.



We did take a "hop on, hop off" bus to go to a nearby traditional and still working fishing village, Camara de Lobos.  This colourful village inspired Winston Churchill to paint seascapes here in 1950, and local tourism still plays on that with "Churchill's bar" and Churchill's hotel.". It's also known for poncha, a local drink made from lemon juice, honey and sugarcane spirit (aguardiente.)   Lobos are Monk Seals.
Looking up to Cabo Girao, 580 metres above the village

Camara de Lobos

One of these hotels is where Churchill stayed



On the second day we caught a local bus taking us 15 kms north to Ribeiro Frio where we started an eleven km hike to the hamlet of Portela.  Known as the  Levada do Furado, the hike followed irrigation channels through forested terrain covered by heather and laurel trees.  There are more than 2100 kms of levadas which are unique to this island, which originally irrigated the terraced farmland and supplied drinking water.  In recent years they've become narrow walking paths, attracting tourists from Europe primarily.




 Back on the ship, we were treated to a performance by a local folkloric dance company.  We pulled away at midnight for our last two days at sea, reaching Lisbon early Sunday morning, disembarking in fog and cooler weather than we'd encountered the whole crossing.  Now the ship will go into drydock in Palermo, Italy, for extending, adding 50 more cabins and upgrades.
Star Legend, in Funchal



Folkloric dance performance


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Aboard the Star Legend, transatlantic crossing

We're in Funchal, Madeira, for two days after 12 days at sea.  The captain sped up the ship to avoid strong currents and possible bad weather, so we have an extra day in Port!  The weather here is lovely and mild.  We did not run into any vestiges of Ciara, the storm that was sweeping Britain and western Europe, nor do we have signs of Coronavirus.  Captain Mark Symonds, from Derbyshire, says we've been pulling the Caribbean with us across the Atlantic, with temperatures in the low 20s so far. Perfect for deck walking, lazing around, reading and doing puzzles.  There's a small swimming pool and hot tub, and gym.  Deck walking fights those added calories.  No yoga instructor on board, unfortunately.  Two duos of musicians and crew talent shows keep us entertained.   Guest speaker, Carl di Lorenzo, is providing information seminars on using your Smart Phones and devices.  We've had the deck barbecue and the crew talent show.





Chef Nilesh, from India,  has provided three cooking demos on Indian Curries, citrus rubbed salmon and Okonomiyaki, the latter prepared by the Hotel Manager James, who lives in Japan.  It translates into "cook what you want" but is mostly an omelette/pizza with no cheese or tomatoes.

Okonomiyaki

Spiral staircase on the Star Legend

Sailboat competition, big boat a U.S. effort, small boat a Canadian.  Both were seaworthy.




There are 107 passengers aboard the Star Legend, the majority of us from the US and Canada.  We've eaten a couple of times at Candles, a bistro with a set menu, but mostly at the main dining room, the AmphorA where the selections change daily and we dined with the captain one night.  He doesn't order pasta bolonaise for fear of getting it on his pristine white uniform!

Mostly we dine with a couple from upstate New York, Pat and Hank, who we find compatible, discussing weighty issues such as US politics, travel, sharing stories.  Some weightier than others!



We have two more sea days after Madeira before we get to Lisbon.  More time to indulge.

Friday, January 31, 2020

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

Today we wrapped up five days in the capital of Puerto Rico by visiting Old San Juan (San Juan Antiguo).  San Juan is the second-oldest city in the New World and boasts two 500-year-old forts, San Cristobal Castle and San Felipe del Morro Castle, bookending the islet, which is connected to the main island by three bridges.  It also boasts the second-oldest cathedral in the Americas.
San Cristobel


San Felipe del Morro
  The old city is easily navigated on foot as the forts are about one mile apart.  It's a very uplifting place, full of candy-colored colonial buildings, monuments and art.  As you meander down the cobblestone streets there's lots to grab your attention.