At this time, I’d like to share a bit of insight about navigation. I’m actually quite glad we started in Portugal because the general crowding and intensity of driving there is a bit less than in Spain. Portugal was like training wheels for Spain.
It turns out that almost no one uses street names for navigation. They’ll use major highways and perhaps major roads sometimes but even locals don’t know the names of little streets. We’re used to directions like, “go south down Preston until you hit Carling. Turn right and go to Fisher where you’ll turn left and keep going south.” There, directions might be more like, “head towards the marina until you come to the roundabout with the windmills. Turn left and head up until you get to the A4 and take the exit towards Malaga.”
Signs almost always point to places rather than streets. Hotels generally have more signs to them than anything so if you get a map with hotels on it, you can do really well. There is almost never a direction like North, South, etc. Rather the highways just list a couple cities that you can get to by going in a particular direction. It’s like you knew you had to leave Toronto to go to Kingston and you came to the 401 and you had a sign 401 to Mississauga, London and 401 to Oshawa, Napanee. If you didn’t happen to know that Oshawa is east and that is the correct direction to Kingston, you’re out of luck.
We were starting to get the hang of it which made us a lot more confident getting into and out of towns. Follow the ‘Centro’ to down town and follow signs to any city other than the one you’re currently visiting to get to the highway. Some other assorted rules of thumb. 1) Unless told otherwise, always go straight through roundabouts. Often you’ll only see one sign to a place and then never see another one so if you turn, you’re lost. Sometimes you’re lost anyways but this seemed to work more often than not. 2) If you’re a passenger and the driver is new to European driving, the roundabout is not the time to distract them. Roundabouts are great but if you’re not used to them, you need to pay attention because things come up quickly and from directions that aren’t what you’re used to.
Back to the story. There were a couple of things we had read about that needed to be done on particular days because they would only happen once a week. The fish market at Quarteira only happens on Wednesday morning so we figured that Wednesday would be a good day to try to cook something in our hotel so we got up early and headed off to the market.
Quarteira was a fairly typical Algarve town, with a bustling waterfront in front of a nice long beach. Down by the fisherman’s wharf were two buildings, the Mercado de Frutas and the Mercado do Peixe which would be the fruit/vegetable market and the fish market respectively. We picked up a couple ingredients and some local cheese at the vegetable market and then entered into the mayhem of the fish market. All the fishermen had stalls with their catch displayed. Prawns, shellfish, eels, lobsters, big fish, small fish, everything in between fish. People were crowded in shoulder to shoulder and all the fishermen were yelling out what they had and how fresh it was and that you should buy from them because everyone else is selling inferior product at inflated prices. One old guy was standing there and would go, “Pssst!” and then stick his fingers into a pile of sardines, moving them around and saying, “See! Still alive!” He’d pick up some fish and do a little puppet show with them, pretending they were talking in funny voices and such.
The first fellow we had bumped into when we came seemed very nice and a good salesman so after wandering around a bit and buying some prawns, we came back to him to buy a fish. We picked out a nice sea bass and had it cleaned for us and we were ready to go.
Our friendly salesman posing with a fish. We didn’t get that one or we would have had leftovers for the next two weeks. Note the lovely silver eels in the front.
After taking our fish back to the hotel to stay fresh in the fridge, we left for a small beach just west of Albufeira called Praia de Sao Rafael.
I think this photo adequately explains what I was up to.
Some interesting rock formations. If you spend some time closely examining the detail of this photo you can see some of the layers of sedimentary deposits and interesting patterns of water erosion. Really quite lovely.
A small waterfall coming down to the beach.
After a relaxing swim we went back to Praia dos Barcos in the historic downtown of Albufeira. If you recall, this is where we had gone to the La Ruina restaurant for Sharon’s birthday. We were a little peckish so we wanted to have a snack at one of the little eateries that line the beach. While we were there, we took a couple photos.
Here’s an example of some of the fishing boats that you’ll find on the beach:
A dog, hoping that if he looks pathetic enough, someone will buy him the grilled sardines.
Some kids kicking a soccer ball around on the beach. I had been hoping to find a volleyball game while I was there and the fact that there were so many volleyballs for sale and all the beaches had nets set up didn’t make it seem like a completely unreasonable hope. No such luck however. These people totally do not get the concept of touching the ball with their hands and even when they do use a volleyball court with a volleyball, it’s to kick and head it back and forth over the net. Very impressive control though. The probably start playing football even younger than we Canadians start playing hockey.
Algarvian cuisine has a type of cooking utensil called a cataplana. They are usually made of copper and look like two woks with a hinge and a clasp so that they can be closed for food to steam inside. There was one on display just by our table.
A miscellaneous shot of Albufeira’s old town.
This is the view from the top of a wall that has a tunnel down to the beach underneath it. This is a pedestrian only area. This fact becomes important later when I talk of a certain adventure in driving.
After a little wandering and shopping, we eventually went back to our hotel and started thinking about making some dinner.
We had been quite ambitious about cooking for ourselves on this trip but unfortunately, the kitchens in these hotels were almost completely unusable. Two burners and a microwave, very small pots and pans and no decent utensils so we had to buy a cheap knife at the grocery store. The hotel in Spain was a bit better because it also had a toaster. Next time we’ll definitely make it a higher priority to stay in a place with a proper kitchen, perhaps a real apartment rather than an apartment hotel.
That being said, we had to do the best we could. We did a serviceable job of cleaning the shrimp and had them lightly sauteed with some fresh peppers and garlic on a bed of wild rice. I would have preferred to grill the fish whole but with no oven, that wasn’t an option so I chose to fillet it. I would have liked a better knife but I did a decent job and we had them pan seared with a traditional Portuguese fish seasoning drizzled with a port wine reduction. Very tasty so we were quite proud of our efforts with fairly minimal resources. Goes to show that it’s hard to mess up when you have really great ingredients.
Come back next time when we visit the provincial capital, a nature park, yet another beach and finally get our meal in a cataplana.