We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourite and sometimes we travel. This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.
There are organised guided tours available for this sort of thing but we prefer to make our own arrangements and not be restricted by a holiday company schedule and inevitable stops at shopping centres and outlet factories that suit the Company but not the Traveller.
Where exactly should we go this time we debated. We had previously been to the Algarve in the South, Porto and the Douro and north of the Algarve to the Alentejo. Eventually we agreed on the greater Lisbon area with stays in Obidos, Ericeira, Cascais, Setúbal and the city of Lisbon itself.
In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.
I started as usual with the Human Development Index which ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed amongst other criteria from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. Portugal is ranked forty-first which is quite low, especially for Europe but it is improving and is up two places from the previous year.
Although it is in Western Europe (in fact it is the most western mainland European country) Portugal did not begin to catch up with its neighbours until 1968 after the death of the dictator António Salazar, the Left Wing Carnation Revolution of 1972 and eventual entry into the European Community in 1986.
Unhappily, the European economic crisis has had a negative effect on Portugal’s position in the Europe Happiness Index and it is rated at only fifteenth out of thirty which is one place behind the United Kingdom. Finland is the happiest and Albania (no real surprise) the least jolly.
The Country has fifteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites and we had previously visited ten of them and intended to add to this total this time.
Portugal is famous for its Atlantic beaches which stretch for one thousand, one hundred and fifteen miles and along this coastline are three hundred Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst all participating countries but looking at the statistics in a different way they get even better and dividing length of coastline by number of beaches, Portugal is way out in front and storms into first place with one proud blue flag flapping away every three and three-quarter miles or so.
When it comes to wine, screw caps have all but completely replaced the cork. Interestingly 35% of the World’s cork forests and 50% of World supply comes from Portugal so there, for the time being the cork stopper still reigns supreme.
My next measure is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Portugal has participated in the annual contest forty-nine times since its debut in the 1964. Up until recently the country held the unfortunate record for the most appearances in the contest without a win but they put that right in 2017 when they won in Kiev with Salvador Sobral’s entry, “Amar Pelos Dois”.
In my research I have discovered some more impressive statistics: Portugal is ranked third in the Global Peace Index, just behind Iceland and New Zealand. The index gauges global peace using three measures – the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict and the degree of militarisation. Portugal for example was one of only a few European countries that escaped involvement in the Second-World-War, the others were Spain, Switzerland (only in theory of course because they did a lot of Nazi banking and gold trading), Sweden and The Republic of Ireland.
On the subject or war and peace, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance (Aliança Inglesa) ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, between England and Portugal, is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force – with an even earlier treaty dating back to the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373. England and Portugal have never been on opposite sides in any military conflict which is a very impressive statistic when you consider that in that time England (UK) has at one time or another been at war at some time or another with almost every other European country.
It was the day of the Queen’s funeral the day that we flew out which was rather a shame as we would have liked to have watched it on TV. The airport was unusual, solemn, subdued and rather eerie actually, much more polite than normal. Shops and restaurants closed for the duration, big screens showing the ceremony without commentary or sound . The two minutes silence almost completely observed except for one young man taking a phone call until obliged to end it quickly on account of the disapproval of those around him.
There was a one hour delay before departure which was not bad under the circumstances.
The plane landed at Humberto Delgardo Airport, named after a lliberal politician who challenged the dictator Salazar and was assassinated for his trouble. I am always interested in the naming of airports. Porto in Portugal is named after another politician, Francisco Sá Carneiro, who died in a plane crash and I have always thought that to be curiously inappropriate.