Follow the Leader (in travel planning)

When we travel, we usually stay at each destination for many days — often up to a month. It may surprise you to know that we don’t usually have much planned to do once we arrive. This may be backwards, but, once we get there, we’re inspired to know more. That’s when the reading and researching begins for possible places to go and things to do.

We’d been in Lagos, Portugal a few weeks, and we were still reading about places to go in the area when we came across Little Miss Traveler’s posts about Lagos on her blog, Love Travelling. She described her journey to the neighboring town, Alvor. What a great daytrip and what a brilliant plan! So, off we went a few days later. And that day was so good, we went back again the next week with our blogging friend, Anita, of No Particular Place to Go.

We took an early 20-minute bus ride from Lagos to Alvor, and a few minutes later we found ourselves at the fishermen’s dock.

The main attraction for us was the boardwalk and trail through an estuary near Alvor’s long, sandy beach. We planned our trip to arrive at low tide in hopes of seeing shore birds. Our best sighting that morning was a flock of Eurasian spoonbills.

We dropped down to the beach to get a better look at some birds wading in the shallow water which turned out to be common redshanks. As we walked across the sand, we saw a very small crab sitting in a hollowed-out footprint.

The boardwalk sliced through grass and marsh lands. Every few minutes we spotted birds. We even managed to identify most of them, with exotic names like Zitting Cisticola and Northern Wheatear.

We took a photo of an unidentified wildflower. Later we saw an interpretive sign identifying the flower as a yellow restharrow (Ononis natrix). What a stroke of luck! And it wasn’t till we looked at the photo on the computer screen that we noticed the little bug caught in the spider web (near the center right of the photo).

After a long stroll on the boardwalk, the path turned into a rough dirt road, then eventually into drifts of white sand. Our paces slowed as the sand became deeper and the path widened.   When we looked up, there was the ocean.

For us, it had been a perfect day: warm with sunshine; a day near the water and nature; lots of birds to watch and photos to take; and a friend to share it with. We continued to follow Little Miss Traveler’s advice to the end with a late lunch in Alvor. We lift our glasses to you, Little Miss Traveler, for your inspired and timely trip post.


September 2017

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A quiet Portugal beach at the end of summer

Everyone complained about so many tourists and crowded Portugal beaches in the summer. We were so thrilled to be  at sandy, pristine beaches in Lagos that the crowds seemed a small price to pay. We rarely sat on the beach anyway, but we loved to take long walks just where the tide would roll up and cover our toes.

We watched a change in the Meia Praia beach as summer turned into fall. Where had all the people gone? The sun was lower in the sky and felt deliciously warm. It was a welcome change from the oppressive heat of a few months ago.

At summer’s end plants were drying up, but, at this final stage, they might have been their most attractive.

We walked many miles on the beach and wondered why there were so few visitors at this time of year?

The shallow water had schools of very small fish that we followed as they swam back out to sea with each wave.

We swore the first day that we wouldn’t collect any shells. How would we transport them? By the last day we had saved a very nice collection of carefully curated shells – happy that we’d changed our minds.

Here was a splash of color – the last for autumn.

Those last days of sunny and warm weather aren’t always predictable. They say “timing is everything,” and we think we were pretty lucky to have enjoyed an idyllic time at the beach in Portugal.


October 2017

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Treasure discovered by the ancient wall

It was a treasure discovered by sheer luck – which happened on a hot day in Lagos, Portugal. The sun seemed to be following us without mercy as we walked on cobblestones through the old city. When we spotted one of the few green spaces set aside as a park, we gratefully sank down on a bench. None of these green spaces is particularly well taken care of, but even so, green is green, and we enjoyed the shade of the trees on a hot summer day.

The park bordered one the old stone walls of the city. How old is the wall? We’re pretty sure it dates back to the late 17th Century when the city came under regular attack “which led to the construction of a string of forts all along the coast. One of them was the late-17th-century Ponta da Bandeira Fort in Lagos, which was completed between 1679 and 1690.”

Birds few by the wall so we eventually got up to see them and the wall — that’s when we spotted our treasure. The very smallest grouping of wildflowers huddled together in the grass, protected by a bush. They were all small plants, in bloom (with glorious colors!), and the little “garden” wasn’t much larger than a doormat. Beth swooped in to take some photos.

A few days later it was time to see if we could find out something about these little beauties. After a few searches, a helpful photo site featuring Algarve wildflowers, taken by Valter Jacinto, proved to be helpful in identifying all of the flowers.

A daisy-like flower, the Common Andryala (Andryala integrifolia) grows in the wild all over the Iberian peninsula. Don’t even think of eating this one as there is toxic latex within the plant.

We were lucky to see the flower of the Mediterranean Thistle (Galactites tomentosa) since it was past its blooming period.

Blue Fieldmadder (Sherardia arvensis) were so small, the little bouquet of flowers was not much larger than a thumb nail. The flowers are 3mm across.

The striking and intense blue color of these Pimpernel (Anagallis) wildflowers were attention getting despite their small size – less than 1” across. While these plants originated as wildflowers in the Mediterranean area, it appears they’re now cultivated and grown wherever there are favorable conditions.

Assembleias (Iberis procumbens) is commonly called dune candytuft. Guess that ant gives you some perspective of the flower’s size.

We forgot about the heat and the birds. What a great discovery! We had remarked how sad the park looked before we made our discovery but then realized that the park’s minimal maintenance had probably spared this little wildflower garden from being cut down.

Wonderful sights are there for those who look.


September 2017

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Observations from a 17th century fort  

Coming from the U.S., we’re always excited to visit anything old — especially castles, stone forts, and city walls. Lagos, Portugal has all three.

Even though Lagos has a long history dating back to before the Carthaginians and going through occupations by Romans, Visigoths, Moors and others, the oldest buildings still standing weren’t as old as we thought.

Not a lot remains of the Castle of Lagos, also called the Governor’s Castle, which was built along a section of the city walls at the end of the 16th century on the site of an old Arab castle.

The fort, Forte da Ponta da Bandeira, dates back to the end of the 17th Century.

On the ground floor were a chapel to Saint Barbara and small exhibit spaces featuring photography: road building in Lagos and roller derby (interesting for the photographer’s chosen technique). Not exactly what we expected in the historic old fort.   We walked up the steep stone ramp to the lookout level. What a view! We had a panorama view of the Governor’s Palace, the modern city, the marina, and out to sea.

That’s when we noticed the windsurfers as we leaned over the wall.   We’ve seen windsurfers whipping across open water, but we’ve wondered how they get on the board and start to sail. This was our chance to find out.

Some were so experienced that within seconds they were on the board (so fast that Beth missed even seeing it happen) and deftly handled the sail to move quickly out of the channel. Beth wished they would do a replay so she could see their technique.

Others were less experienced, and it seemed that as soon as they were up on the board, they struggled with the sail, and then lost their balance, and fell back into the water.

Joe was so distressed for one beginner that he finally had to look away, not able to bear the wind surfer’s lack of mastery and obvious frustration.

A few minutes later Beth told him he could look as the last of the wind surfers had now managed to get up on the board and started sailing.

At first the still wobbly windsurfer was not making much progress. He had to swerve right to avoid the tour boats that motored in, including a boat towing a train of kayaks behind it. In moving right he was now wedged between the boats on his left and the concrete jetty on his right. Would he be able to calmly sail by them and out to the open ocean?

We held our breaths, and then sighed with relief when everyone safely managed to sail or motor on, avoiding any collisions.

The fort had provided us with a great view of the harbor and out to sea. That is exactly what it was supposed to do. Who knew we’d have so many things to watch as we stood there, gazing out to sea?



September 2017

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The most impressive viewpoint

The winner is … Lagos, Portugal. In our travels, far and wide, we have never seen views like this.

Steep, orange-hued cliffs drop down to the cobalt-turquoise blue sea. It doesn’t escape us that orange and blue are perfect contrasting colors so the effect was a real eye-opener. In the photo – these colors don’t look real (but we assure you they are).

If you painted the scene, you might decide to introduce a little color on that beach. The umbrellas are too perfect as are the little people lined up on the edge of the water.

We watched the kayaks (with red on the paddles) bisect the huge rock wall in front to us.

We had decided to walk one morning to the stretch of coast with the superlative views.

Soon after we started, we came upon some wonderful urban art. How exciting!

Then the walk turned into a bit of a slog. We dodged cars, we passed litter, and it wasn’t until we were standing right on the top of the eroded cliff and looked down that the magical view appeared.

We headed back home and upon arrival, Joe went to his own view point in the apartment.

All the windows face a construction site for a new apartment building that is being built. Joe can sit on the balcony, at the kitchen table, or anywhere in the apartment and watch the progress the construction workers are making. It was an exciting day when the concrete flooring went in.

Aren’t we all drawn to standing back at a height and watching the panorama view of a great many activities all happening at the same time? We so often focus (our cameras) on the little things in life that are right before our eyes. It’s especially breathtaking to take in the big views in Lagos, Portugal.


September 2017

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A sad departure but look what awaits us

We (seriously) did not want to leave Cascais, Portugal – a charming seaside resort town west of Lisbon.   We saw the days tick off, and knew we’d have to move on, but it was with heavy hearts that we headed to our next destination: Lagos, Portugal on the southern, Algarve coast.

Cheer up, we told ourselves. Lagos got rave reviews from lots of visitors and would be a pleasant change of pace. In our first weeks of exploring the town, we’ve discovered some of its appeal.

Lagos’ famous coast is a spectacular sight, we had to admit.

The city walls have been there for centuries and define the old section of the city.

We sat at a little café and looked out to a view of two friends enjoying their view of the marina.

Our search for outstanding building tiles continues in Lagos. These are tiles on the old train station.

How many little back streets can we explore during our visit and how many great works of art will we discover on the walls in Lagos?

So, how did we originally decide to come to Lagos? The story started in California when we met a fellow blogger, Susan, and her husband, Bruce, whose blog we had faithfully followed for years, One Small Walk.  She recommended reading Anita and Dick’s blog, as she thought we all had a lot in common. With that introduction, we started reading their blog, No Particular Place to Go.   As Anita and Dick’s travels progressed, they decided to find a home base in Portugal and settle in Lagos. When we decided to come to Portugal, we did our own web searches and decided, why not?

A month in Lagos would be perfect – and maybe we’d even get to meet Anita and Dick, too.

As it turned out, Lagos has a lot to offer, and we have especially enjoyed meeting Anita and Dick. What an interesting string of recommendations that finally brought us to this town!


September 2017

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Stop and stay awhile (or not?)

When we’re charmed by a place on our travels, we have a hard time leaving. It didn’t take long for us to feel that Cascais had become one of those special places for us. So, we were faced with a dilemma: stay in Cascais for the day or depart for a quick trip to Lisbon?

We reasoned it was only a day, and we’d be coming right back to Cascais – so why not?

We locked up our historic little AirBnB house, and Beth took one more photo of Joe waiting to go.

Every time we turned the corner by the nearby house we glanced upward and smiled at the little boy looking down at us.


National Tile Museum

Long before we arrived in Portugal, we knew we wanted to visit the National Tile Museum in Lisbon. What better place to view tiles over a span of 500 years? Tiles are the national art of Portugal.

Many of the early tiles showed the influence of the Moors who occupied Portugal from the 8th through the 13th centuries.

The word for tile in Portuguese is azulejo, derived from the Arabic word azzelij, meaning “small polished stone”. Ceramic tiles are glazed on one side.

We were drawn to tiles of simplicity in design and color in the earlier periods. In the beginning they were often used for pavers and only later for wall decoration. During the Renaissance, tiles took on a more figurative look.

We thought we had finished our tour when a guard motioned to us to climb one more flight of stairs to see the best work of all.

In the early 1700’s a grand, sweeping tile panorama of Lisbon was completed. In 1755 a major earthquake devastated the city. The tile panorama became an historic record for how Lisbon looked before the earthquake.

The museum had small placards that pointed out important buildings in the early 1700’s and what happened to them in the earthquake. The Carmo Monastery, shown in this photo, had been built in 1389 and was destroyed in the earthquake. The church was in ruins and never rebuilt.

The National Tile Museum was well worth a visit, but it felt like “coming home” to return to Cascais at the end of the day.


August 2017

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