Category Archives: Portugal

A to Z of Cathedrals – O is for Oviedo in Spain

Oviedo is only a small city, only just scraping into the top twenty largest cities in Spain and it isn’t even the largest in Asturias so it didn’t take that long to walk around the historical centre and soon there was only one thing left to do – visit the Cathedral.

The building was severely damaged during the Spanish Civil War when the conflict more or less started here and there was fierce Nationalist oppression inflicted by General Franco but it has been restored now and has been returned to its former medieval grandeur.

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The Algarve – Train Ride to Lagos

Life at the Tui Blue Hotel was rather tedious I have to say with a looping Groundhog Day daily itinerary so we decided to break out and do something different.  A train excursion to the city of Lagos, thirty-five miles or so west of where we were staying at Olhos de Agua.

There was an expensive taxi ride to the railway station at Albufeira one of those taxi rides where I watch the meter ticking away and increasingly panic about the cost and then to compensate inexpensive train tickets to Lagos at less than five euro each return (seniors rate). The price was right but the train was soporifically slow and stopped several times and took over an hour to reach our destination and we arrived just about midday.

I liked it immediately as we walked from the station to the old town.  So much nicer than Albufeira with a a retained history, a nostalgia and a satisfying whiff of the past  Some of my favourites – aged doors with sun blistered paint and elegant iron balconies, cobbled streets and whitewashed houses.  Really lovely, really lovely.

Lagos was once a Moorish city, the capital of the Algarve and one of the most important cities in all of what is now Portugal.  How the Moors must have loved life in Iberia, excellent weather (not as hot as North Africa), no deserts, an abundance of fresh water, good fertile soil for crops and not nearly so many flies.

This idyllic lifestyle came to a sudden and abrupt end after the Reconquest when the Moors were forced to abandon their city after a brutal siege by Northern Crusaders.  In Spain and Portugal they celebrate the reconquest but in reality it was the replacement of a benevolent and progressive regime with a barbaric and medieval reversal of progress.

Without the Moors the city rapidly became neglected, the port silted up and the city went into a long period of decline.  This is something that always intrigues me, it is rather like the Roman Empire, great civilisations provide advancement in human development but Barbarians always come along and tear it down and set progress back several hundred years.  Rather like BREXIT in the United Kingdom right now.  It really frustrates me because we learn absolutely nothing from history.

What happened to the Ancient Egyptians, the Native Americans of USA, the  Classical Greeks, the Romans, they all showed great progress in human development and then they disappeared and the process was reversed.  What lies ahead for us I wonder?

Down at the seafront was a statue of Henry the Navigator, quite possibly, no, almost certainly the most famous of all Portuguese sailors and adventurers.

I had seen him before of course in Belem in Lisbon at the The Monument to the Discoveries. Located on the edge of the north bank of the Tagus, the fifty metre (I hate Boris Johnson and I emphatically refuse to go back to imperial measures) high slab of concrete was erected in 1960 to commemorate the five-hundredth  anniversary of his death. The monument in the capital city is sculpted in the form of a ship’s prow, with dozens of figures from Portuguese history following a statue of the Infante Henry looking out to the west, perhaps contemplating another voyage of discovery. 

The statue in Lagos is rather less spectacular.

Lagos was an important port during the Age of Discovery when Portugal was a major maritime nation as it built a World empire.  It competed primarily with neighbours  Spain to make discoveries in the New World and in 1494  after years of challenge a Treaty was signed which gave Brazil to Portugal and all the rest to Spain. For Spain this might have seemed like a good idea at the time but it rates as a serious negotiating disaster  as it gave up the Amazon rain-forest and all of its riches for the barren Andes of Patagonia.

By the mid nineteenth century Portugal had the fourth largest European Empire but at only 4% of World territory was way behind France (9%), Spain (10%) and Great Britain at a huge 27%.  That is a massive amount of land grab but I wonder if the Roman Empire might have been even greater given that the known World was much smaller two thousand years ago.

We spent a very enjoyable afternoon in Lagos, it was different, it wasn’t the tourist Algarve of Vilamoura or Albufeira, much more similar to Silves and Tavira; had a very pleasant pavement lunch and then took the train ride home, had a few stressful moments trying to secure a taxi ride to the hotel but eventually made it back to our accommodation,

We had tired of the hotel catering by this point but had discovered a very nice Portuguese restaurant in the village which served traditional food so were we glad to abandon the school dinner hall tonight and spend an excellent evening with proper food.

Tea Towel Souvenirs – Portugal

I usually bring home postcards but occasionally a tea towel.  I am unable to explain why.

Portugal and the Algarve – Blue Flag Beaches

 

After two years of pandemic hibernation we were ready for a vacation.  Due to continuing uncertainty we agreed to book the sort of holiday that we wouldn’t normally consider and booked a beach hotel holiday with Tui holidays.  Part of our logic was that if things did go wrong then Tui are reliable at giving refunds.

Also, we had been to the Algarve in 2019 and had liked it there.

We chose a hotel in the Alarve in the village of Olhos de Agua  near Albufeira at the western end of the six kilometre long blue flag beach of Praia da Falésia which according to TripAdvisor is considered the number one beach in Portugal, the third best beach in Europe and the twelfth best beach in the World.

Maybe, maybe not, these things are always subjective.  No one ever agrees about these matters.  My favourite beach in Portugal is Bordeira on the west coast south of Lisbon.  Oh I did so like it there…

The Blue Flag beach award was originally conceived in France in 1985 where the first coastal municipalities were awarded the Blue Flag on the basis of criteria covering standards relating to sewage treatment and bathing water quality.

Two years later, 1987 was the ‘European Year of the Environment’ and the concept of the Blue Flag was developed as a European initiative by the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe to include other areas of environmental management, such as waste disposal and coastal planning and protection and in that first year two hundred and forty four beaches from ten countries were awarded the new Blue Flag status.  Thirty-five  years later in 2022 when the updated list was published there are over four thousand.

Spain has more blue flag beaches than any other participating country with six hundred and fifteen along almost five thousand kilometres of coastline.  The United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and twenty-nine in nearly twelve thousand,  five hundred kilometres.  Greece has the second most blue flags at five hundred and forty-four  and the most in the Mediterranean Sea.  Italy has four hundred and sixteen and France has four hundred and ten.

Portugal completes the top five list with three hundred and seventy two.

This one is in the north at Furadouro…

What is interesting however is to put this into context by relating success in terms of numbers to the total length of coastline because that reveals that Portugal has a blue flag beach every seven kilometres  and Spain and France only every ten.  Lust my opinion but beaches in Portugal are way better than Spain and France because they are all on the Atlantic coast.

In the United Kingdom you have to travel almost one hundred kilometres between each blue flag beach and that puts us twenty fifth out of the top twenty-five.  That is even worse than our annual performance in the Eurovision song contest.  Mind you would have to travel a lot further in Norway because it has only three blue flag beaches in eighty-three thousand kilometres of coast.

The journey was spoilt by a flight delay and chaos at Faro airport passport control and then a lot of faffing about on the coach transfer but eventually we reached our destination, the monstrous three hundred and fifty room Tui Blue Falésia hotel with its seven or so hundred guests.  We normally like something like a maximum ten room place.

We approved the accommodation and ignoring the pool, the gardens and the cocktail bar made directly for the village and something more our style – a beachfront bar/restaurant and sat for an hour or so, had a pleasant lunch and admired the beach and the never ending view out over the Atlantic Ocean to the horizon.

Kim worked on her tan…

I would have been happier staying in the village rather than the hotel but we had a half board arrangement so returned now to the dining room buffet.

Inevitably I made the first mistake about buffet spreads.

I did no forward planning, made no menu preferences  in advance, had no idea what I wanted to eat so just blundered in and ended up with a selection of bizarre food combinations which if I had been a contestant on Masterchef would have led to an instant elimination.  You know the sort of thing, fish, beef, chicken goujons  and a slice of pizza all on the same plate.  A real gourmet mess.

It was all rather disappointing, rather like a school dinners experience and we were happy when it came to an end.  Never mind, we had a lovely room on the top floor, a large balcony and a good sea view.  We agreed that in future we would do some planning ahead and be more tactical and selective.

Tomorrow we planned to walk the Praia da Falésia.

Sunday Sunsets – Estremoz in Portugal

The walk to the top took us through neglected streets and gardens, some youths played football and tinkered with motorbike engines.  Litter collected in the corners.

They eyed us with suspicion.  I eyed them with equal suspicion.  I felt uneasy, I didn’t feel comfortable there.

By contrast at the top was a five star Pousada hotel which to me seemed hopelessly out of place. Extravagance amongst poverty just seems incompatible and wrong.  There was a bar/restaurant with a roof top terrace with good views over the marble quarry spoil heaps and we liked it there so being a confessed hypocrite I booked a table for dinner later that evening.

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A to Z of Cathedrals – C is for Coimbra in Portugal

When thinking about C I was tempted to go for Cordoba and also the rather strange unfinished Cathedral in Cuenca.  Both in Spain of course.  I could have gone to Coventry in UK but I haven’t got any pictures of Coventry  Cathedral so after much deliberation I chose instead to go to Coimbra in Portugal…

In Europe, most cathedrals are reconstructions of older cathedrals which were rendered obsolete by their size, condition or style.  There are, however, cases where the city authorities did not want to destroy their old cathedral, and decided instead to build a second one.

Coimbra is a city with two Cathedrals.

The old cathedral of Coimbra was built between 1146 and 1218 and is one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Portugal.   In 1772, after the expulsion of the Jesuits, the title of cathedral was transferred to the Jesuit church, now the New Cathedral of Coimbra. This church was originally built by the Jesuits in the 16th century next to the famous University of Coimbra.

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Other Cities with two Cathedrals include Brescia in Italy, Salamanca and Lleida in Spain, and Marseilles in France.

Some might expect Barcelona to be on that list but Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is only a minor basilica and the Roman Catholic Church points out that two hundred years ago  Barcelona already had a rather splendid Cathedral and no one actually asked Gaudi to build another.

Sunday Sunsets – Street Art in the Algarve

In the Algarve the local council has come up with a good way to stop graffiti – they get there first with street art.  These electrical supply boxes are painted and suffer no vandalism.

 

Sunday Sunset – Dancing on the Waves

A Sunset in Portugal in February…

“As the sun went down it seemed to drag the whole sky with it like the shreds of a burning curtain leaving rags of bright water that went on smoking and smouldering among the estuaries and around the many islands”                     Laurie Lee – ‘As I walked out one Midsummer Morning’

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A to Z of Windows – O is for Ovar in Portugal

The plan for our three days at the seaside in Furadouro was to take a break from travelling and the trains, the drag-bags and the packing and unpacking and to spend some time relaxing on the beach.

Unfortunately our plan was scuppered by the weather because when we woke the next day there was a thick sea mist which would have challenged anything that the North Sea can throw at us back home.

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A to Z of Windows – L is for Lisbon

It was late afternoon and the heat was beginning to drain away into the deep shadows cast by the tall buildings and the sun was melting into the deep pools of shade in the doorways and courtyards so we enjoyed a walk to a shady park where we stopped for a beer and then took a stroll through the elegantly tiled but grotesquely graffiti scarred streets of the town.  I was shocked by the urban scrawl which some call art but I call vandalism.  I didn’t like it.

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