Saturday, October 30, 2010

Portugal, Part One - the Algarve

As the temperatures recently dropped like the US dollar, we decided to head somewhere warm this Fall Break.  It's hard to believe that we have already made it through two months of this school year, but it definitely felt like an appropriate time to have a week off to go and visit sunny Portugal!

There aren't too many people that I know that have been to Portugal and it's definitely not a huge tourist stop for European travelers............which was all the reason to check it out for ourselves.  Not to mention that it seemed like a really small country that we could easily get around in a week.  The plan was to fly south into Faro, visit the Algarve region for a couple of days, then drive up to Lisbon for a couple of days, and finally take a train up to Porto before flying back to Frankfurt.

The Algarve refers to the southern, coastal region of Portugal, which was once under Moorish rule (Muslims from North Africa) and still features many remnants of that period (i.e. almond and orange trees, white-domed buildings).  We stayed in Lagos, which is a beach town towards the southwest and ventured around the area in a rental car.  The weather was California-esque (blue skies, sunny, and in the low 70's every day) and the scenery was unbelievable.

Beach in Lagos - where we rented an apartment

 We stayed on this street right in the city center - the white and black tile-paved paths were very different from elsewhere in Europe

 Main plaza in Lagos - again, the white and black tile

Sailboat coming in to port in Lagos

Old fortress guarding the party beach town of Lagos - apparently the Australians hit this place hard in the on-season

This guy plays guitar with his faithful companion nearby for anyone that cares to listen.  He had a lot of great covers and he literally plays every night that he's in town.

Check out his version of Gnarls Barkley- "Crazy"

Lighthouse at Cape Sagres 

Overlooking cliffs at Cape Sagres - I couldn't help but think about explorers that might've stood here and contemplated upcoming voyages into the vast unknown.

The highlight here was our trip out to the southwestern tip of Portugal at Sagres, where we took in the high-cliffed views of the Atlantic, complete with a lighthouse and an old navigator's school established by Prince Henry (dubbed "Henry the Navigator").  It was really laid-back with no particular schedule and it was interesting putting yourself in the shoes of the old 15th century explorers.

Large assembly of rocks thought to have been some sort of wind compass or a sundial at the old Navigator's School.  Allegedly, famous explorers such as Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, Pedro Cabral (founder of Brazil), and Barolomeu Dias all studied at this school at some point.  That's almost as impressive as the line-up of East Paulding HS's famous alumni.

Another thing that was apparent right away was that the Portuguese cuisine was unbelievable.  They don't serve much in the way of fancy dishes, but their seafood dishes were generous and flavorful.  This was a feature that was not limited to the Algarve, as we would find out throughout our trip.  All in all, the Algarve was a wonderful place to start a great trip!

Fishing boats parked at the beach town of Salema.

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