Castle and Road Trip

If you missed them, please see part 1 and part 2.

Breakfast was included with our hotel in Lisbon so we had that and went along our way. We only had a short time remaining there since we had to drive down to the South coast in the afternoon and we wanted to see a bit more of Lisbon before we went.

The Castelo de Sao Jorge seemed like a good idea since it was close and looked interesting. How to get to it is the problem. Just because you can see the castle from your hotel, doesn’t mean that it’s easy to find. By the time you find your way through all the narrow, winding streets and climb the several hundred feet of elevation between the bottom and the top of the hill, you could have killed most of your morning.

Fortunately, Lisbon has the answer in its famous ‘Tram 28‘. This is one of the routes of their old electric cable cars that just happens to make its way past most of the major monuments and tourist attractions in the downtown. For a couple euros you can sit on the wooden seats, hold onto a brass handrail or leather strap and bump and jerk your way around the track, passing so close to buildings and parked cars that you think there’s no way it will fit and enjoy the view of the old city. Much easier than climbing the hill.

I believe the castle was probably our first experience with the phenomenon of ‘loose’ animals in Spain and Portugal. I won’t say ‘strays’ although some of them undoubtedly are but in general, it seems that animals, even ones that are pets, are often left to their own devices and wander the streets at will. I would like to make a positive comment on the quality of strays in these countries however. Having been to Trinidad and seeing the malnourished, diseased and often feral strays there, it was quite pleasant to see how well kept stray animals are in Spain and Portugal. They are lean and occasionally seem to have some injuries or disease but mostly they seem healthy and friendly. You will often find trays of cat food in the bushes that are left by kindly souls and many of the animals will happily come up to you for a little head scratch and purr. Unfortunately Canada Customs would probably have had some objections but we were tempted to try to smuggle one of the kittens on several occasions. Either way, there were quite a selection of various dogs and cats hanging around within the castle. Peeking over the wall at some of the lower terraces we could see fresh crops of kittens lounging in the sun and playing with each other. I guess it helps keep the mouse population down.

These two were obviously owned by someone since they had collars but they were just wandering about, enjoying the nice weather.

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The castle was about as impressive as a castle can be I suppose. To be honest, Sharon and I don’t really care for castles and monuments and museums and such quite as much as we probably should. We like them well enough but as often as not, it’s more of a checklist sort of thing. “Seen this, check. Seen that, check. Took some pictures so family with think we have culture, check. Okay…lets go get something to eat and then go to the beach.” Don’t get me wrong, we ooh and ahh over the beautiful sights as much as the next people but we quickly get bored and ready to move on. In our defence, the food was really good and the beaches were very nice… 😉 At any rate, the nicest part of this castle was that it was very high and had a great view out over the city.

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Clearly Sharon took this one but I have to take some credit since it was a tricky exposure. I had to lock in the setting to expose the sky properly and then use the flash to light the interior. The composition is all her though. Here’s a few more that you can click on for larger versions:

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Getting close to check out time so time to get back to the hotel and get our bags and car. Road trip!!! On our way back down we see another fine example of a house completely covered in tiles.

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Now we’re a little bit used to getting around in the city so getting out to the highway isn’t too much of an adventure. We miss the exit to the road out of Lisbon and have to do a bit of backtracking to get turned around but other than that, the highways are well marked, consistent and generally pretty easy to navigate. Listening to some Portuguese language CDs I brought along helps us realize that grunting and pointing is going to be our most effective means of communication. That and, “Fala Inglese?”, (do you speak English?) of course.

Even though highways aren’t that exciting, it’s pretty cool to do a long drive in a new country because everything looks so different. Houses, cars, scenery, farms, it’s all new. Drivers that actually have lane discipline and move over for faster traffic to pass rather than slogging along in the fast lane. On a side note, drivers are generally much more considerate but the Spanish definitely have shorter tempers than the Portuguese. Much more honking and swearing and heaven help you if you’re driving too slow in the fast lane because you’re going to have someone coming up behind you with high beams flicking, turn signals flashing and horn blaring. You’ve been warned…use that lane for passing only.

The newest and coolest thing for us on this drive is the truck stop. We could learn something from them over here. To be honest, we have some pretty good rest stops in Canada. If you’ve ever been to an Irving Big Stop down east you know what I’m talking about. Portuguese and Spanish rest stops are really nice though. Great food and coffee with all sorts of little tapas dishes and pastries and plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables. I think this is where I first met bica. Ah bica, my summer love. Ever the sweeter because you know it can’t last forever but it burns brightly for a brief time and will always be remembered with fondness. I went to Starbucks this morning for an espresso but it’s just not the same as bellying up to the counter with the locals for “uma bica, por favor”. You learn that there are different prices for things depending on whether you stand at the counter, sit inside or outside and so on. Typically a bica costs between 0.50 and 1 euro and can be ordered, made, paid for and consumed in less than a minute. By far the most efficient means of caffeine delivery I’ve ever encountered.

Our route was almost straight south from Lisbon to Albufeira on the South coast and the scenery was grand with deep valleys and tall hills in an environment that was very dry and looked much like southern California or Mexico. No time for pictures though. Gotta keep on rolling!

We arrived in Albufeira having stupidly followed signs labeled ‘Albufeira’ which took us to someplace west of the actual town of Albufeira.  Also it turns out that, despite the reassurances of google and our travel agent, our hotel wasn’t actually in Albufeira but in a smaller town to the east although we didn’t know that at the time. I knew it was east and that we were west however so we just kept driving around in town, trying to keep the ocean to our right mostly. This is where the studying of maps is handy because I knew a few things that were close to our hotel, specifically the Pine Cliffs golf course. Eventually we saw a sign leading that way and somehow, once again without any knowledge of how we actually accomplished it, wound up at our hotel. We went for a little walk to find the beach and finally saw what a typical beach in the south of Portugal looks like:

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I told you the beaches were nice.  Tune in next time for grocery shopping madness and how Sharon spent her birthday.

Kris

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