Saturday, May 9, 2020


It’s been almost 10 weeks since we returned from Europe, where we spent two weeks quiet and carefree, exploring the Algarve, Portugal.  Ten weeks seems like a life-time ago though as so much has changed.  Consider this:  on March 1, the day we left Tavira to begin our long journey home, Portugal had no cases of COVID-19; Spain had 26 new cases, for a total of 84, and its first death was confirmed in Valencia.  Italy, the worst of the European countries, had 566 new cases, for a total of 1694, and five new deaths, for a total of 34.  In Canada, we had four new cases, all in Ontario from people who had traveled to Iran or Egypt, for a total of 24, and no deaths had yet been recorded.

We had been following the disease, not yet called a pandemic, since it appeared in China late in December.  While we listened with great concern, we didn’t consider ourselves at threat, nor had any inkling how it might affect our lives.  How fortunate we were to have left Europe when we did, though, as the handwriting was on the wall.  When we arrived at Toronto Airport on the evening of March 1, we joined the throng of passengers arriving en masse and crowding the customs kiosks.  There were no queues; it was a free-for-all to get a machine and then join the very long snaking line of arrivals to get to the Customs Officer.  All she asked was, “Where are you coming from?” to which we replied “Portugal.”  Then she waved us out.  We squeezed into the small hotel shuttle with perhaps eight others.  Distancing was not an issue then. 

We noticed a few more people wearing masks on Transit on our arrival in Vancouver, but it didn’t seem unusual.  Fast forward a couple of weeks to mid-March, and life began to change.  Instead of adding social dates to the calendar, I began erasing them (tennis, plays, lunch with friends, dental appointments) until the calendar was blank.  Now I record how far we’ve walked each day, and when we’ve biked or I’ve done yoga at home.  Zoom meetings, WhatsApp chats and phone calls keep us in virtual touch.  Our daily walks have become a ritual that can’t be missed.  Mostly we’re able to avoid others on the paths through the woods or on the streets.  People are friendlier; we’re all in the same boat and have time to “be kind” as Dr. Bonnie Henry asks, while we’re trying to “flatten the curve.” 

We have been trying to shop as seldom as possible.  My first experience felt like going into battle; I didn’t sleep well the night before.  Armed and ready to go at 8:00,  I was second in line to get into the store, gloves and mask on, carefully planned list in hand.  The manager disinfected the cart and let about eight of us in to start.  Immediately I realized it was impossible to stay 6 feet apart in the small produce area just inside the door.  Getting the plastic produce bags to open wearing gloves was another challenge, then navigating the one-way aisles.  Some people stopped to check the shelves and I hesitated:  Do I wait or pass by?  Searching for bargains has given way to getting what you can, when you can.

I’ve started a salad greens and herbs garden, about all I can grow on our north-facing deck.  I nurture them and check their progress each morning.   

lettuce, kale, Swiss chard

The cupboard shelves are opening up just a crack as we try some items that have been there an age!  “Here’s this salsa someone gave us…how long has it been there?”   I spent a day slicing and dehydrating onions.  A ten pound bag was too much to keep!   Carrots were turned into some yummy curried carrot soup…delicious!  I got my sourdough starter out of the freezer and am making bread and buns every week.  Oh, but it would be lovely to go out to dinner just once in a while!

We love our city with it's mountains, beaches and forests and appreciate it more as we have time to get out and explore it.  It represents freedom and some control.  April was such a lovely month: mild weather, flowering azaleas and rhododendrons, cherry trees and magnolias.  Cheery daffodils and tulips brightened the gardens.  We notice the bird song and breathe the fresh air, clearer with less traffic.  It’s sad to watch the empty buses pass by, though.  And know how many are suffering with the pandemic or job losses.  

rear-boarding only and no fares; distanced seating

We’ve been able to visit our son and his young family weekly by distancing outside, but it sure would be great to give them a hug!

Another term we’ve become familiar with is the “new normal.”  This is a fluctuating term and who knows what it will end up being, but we suspect some aspects of life as we knew it will not return in our lifetime.  Certainly, travel will change; we will not be moving about as freely as before.  We tell ourselves we’ve been fortunate to have visited most of the places we’ve wanted to see, but it will be difficult not to plan for another adventure for now, or dream of just getting away.  But we’ll always have our memories until we can.

Saturday, February 29, 2020


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

Cape St. Vincent

Free Campers in Sagres

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 C.

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.

dining at Os Arcos by the Roman Bridge

Church of Misericordia and 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


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.


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.