07.12.2012 - 07.12.2012
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We travelled around 450 km today from Coimbra to the village of Luz just outside of Lagos in the Algarve region of Portugal. In our original planning of our nine months in Europe and Turkey we had contemplated leaving out Portugal (among other stops) to keep our travel pace more leisurely. It seemed a shame to skip Portugal so we thought that we could spare a week and not be too much worse for wear. We made up a tentative itinerary of our trip accounting for all 268 days that we think we will be gone. Some feel that we may be over planners (Ron Spelt I won't mention your name) but we thought it best to have a wish list and outline on paper a first attempt at what we thought was realistic and then make changes. We are happy to report that we can be flexible and change our path to take in account our moods, health and the weather. We knew we couldn't do Portugal justice so we decided to get a bit of culture in the north in Coimbra and then go south to the beaches and any possible hope of warmth.
Our road trip provided a good sampling of the countryside of Portugal’s interior. It is a rustic semi-pastoral landscape. We saw rocky terrain dotted with pine and sage give way to a more rolling country side with lush greens contrasted against the stark redness of the soil. The scenery was never bucolic, no matter how much man has modified the landscape and nor how bright the greenery there is always a hint of ruggedness and signs of potential of aridness wherever you look. Our roadtrip consisted of a series of rainshowers punctuated by brilliant sunshine breaking through spectacular clouds. It seemed that around every bend in the highway there was a new rainbow to discover. The skies over the rolling topography are really something to behold.
The landscape was indeed quite photogenic but opportunity to stop and get a clear shot was difficult to near impossible due to the rain or the endless guardrails along the highway. You will have to go with my written description without much further illustration in the form of photography.
Our path to the south involved the use of toll roads once again. Our trip would be three hours longer by avoiding the tolls but the girls are not quite ready for a longer more winding drive and we thought it best just to get south. The size and modernity of Portugal’s toll highways is comparable to that which we saw in Spain and France and exceeds what we have in Canada save for the Montreal to Toronto traffic corridors. The contrast, however, is the complete lack of traffic. The toll roads here are nearly abandoned. It may be partly due to the time of year. There are huge rest stops every 50 km or so complete with large gas station, restaurant and picnic area on both sides of the highway and no one at any of them even at lunchtime. Our hunch as to big reason for the lack of use was confirmed by Ruth whom we are renting our current accommodation from--all the locals are essentially boycotting the highways because of the high toll rates. We would concur. We drove 450 km and paid out 40 euros for the privilege. We did not pay that much in the more affluent and prosperous north. It would appear the country has overbuilt on the highway front. It would seem halving the tolls at least would likely bring in more revenue than the current economic model.
Our search for warmth and sunshine appears to have been rewarded. When we arrived in Lagos the thermometer in our car hit 18 degrees and the rain and clouds had evaporated. We did some grocery shopping and headed off to a nearby campsite from where we called our new landlords to guide us to their hobby farm. The answer Muriel got on the phone was not very reassuring when the answer was, “oh... is it really the 7th today?!” After a 15 minute wait the owner showed up in an old 4 wheel drive that looked very much like an old British Land Rover. She was very apologetic saying she was at an appointment with her lawyer when we called. When we arrived at our accommodation we were greeted by four very enthusiastic dogs and a horse wandering in the background. Our place had been occupied the previous night and had not been cleaned. A frazzled husband was doing dishes and the place was in a bit of an uproar. Ruth told us to go down and have a beer on the beach for an hour at least to let them sort things out. The kids were intrigued by the prospect of being taken out for a beer.
We drove to Luz, a mere few minutes away to come across a beautiful beach bathed in late afternoon sunshine and a mere handful of people walking the promenade and beach. The palm trees and warmth brought nothing but feelings of pleasure and confirmation of the wisdom of making haste to the south of Portugal. I will let the beach pictures and sunset speak for themselves.
As we had already, suspected from what we had read and seen in the grocery store we are basically staying in an enclave of British expats. The grocery store was full of British canned goods and crackers. On the waterfront we heard English hymns being practiced in a small well maintained church. It was the choir of an Anglican Church practicing for Sunday. We will go to church there this weekend, we look forward to a service in English.
When we got back to our digs, we found the place more or less ready to occupy. I had to repeatedly shew the horse away from the front steps just to get in the house. There is a small woodstove that heats our rustic home. Unfortunately the wood was soaked. It took me over an hour to get the fire to a state that I didn’t need to tend to it every five minutes. It is not cold here but it is a bit cool not to have heat in the evening. I needed to stuff the little stove full of fire wood every couple of hours if I was to have any hope to keep the fire going. So as you may be suspecting Muriel and I got up a few times in the night to tend the stove. This along with the gas stove in which the oven needs to be lit manually and a number of other features (delicate septic system and slow drains-use your imagination) makes us feel like we are homesteading. The place is quite rough around the edges but Ruth is quite nice and her guest book and the online reviews of the place are over-the-moon in their praise of the place so I am doing my best to reserve judgment. We know we are living no rougher than our landlords appear to be. They moved here 30 years ago from Britain and raised a family here.
We are off to the Saturday market at Lagos and then will explore the beach again. We will let your know in the near future how it all turns out.