So…hey there. I’m Tyler, one of Heather’s (decidedly larger) little brothers. Last year when Heather was on her Asian tour I stopped by for a visit in Cambodia. And here’s the thing, if you ever get the chance to vacation with Heather and Kevin, take it! A trip with these two is truly a vacation experience. They find all the most interesting people, order the best food, plan the best day trips, and before you know it you’re staging ridiculous photo-ops in front of Ancient World Wonders.
So when I got the offer to come visit in Alte, I took it! And in April, I met Heather and Kevin in Lisbon, kicking off a two week adventure of history, roadtrips, and wine.
And what a trip. These two know road-trips. In Cambodia it involved a motorcycle ride through the dusty backroads to Angkor Watt. For Portugal it was slightly more tame but just as scenic; stops in Sintra (possibly my favourite place on Earth), Piodao (an incredible mountain town lost in time) and Marvao (where I rolled my ankle, but still got to see a medieval style castle), driving over mountains and through clouds, with Kanye West on repeat for 2 days, before finally arriving in Alte.
While the road-trip was great (and Heather can discuss more), spending a week in the Algarve with Kevin was the most uniquely relaxing time I’ve ever had. We explored the area (which I’ll talk more about later) learning a good deal about Alte, the Algarve, Kevin’s family, and in true European fashion, we ate some great food along the way!
You may recall previous concerns about picky eating, and they’re fairly justified. I’ve never really been described as “vegetable friendly” or “likes to try new food”, nope, just pizza and peanut butter please and thank you! However, travelling with Heather and Kevin involves visiting some pretty great restaurants, as they take their reviewing pretty seriously, so we worked on expanding our horizons…or waistlines. Here are some the things I picked up along the way:
1. Portuguese take their french fries seriously
Spending the week in the Algarve we visited a few local, family owned restaurants. All the food is freshly caught or hunted and cooked, the wines are usually local, service is friendly (helps that Kevin knows everyone). One thing stood out – the fries are delicious. These aren’t you’re frozen then deepfried run-of-the-mill fries; no, every cook here has their own recipe and technique. At one meal we even ended up in a 30 minute discussion on the finer points of potato choice, oil temperature, and crispness. Lines were drawn. Sides were chosen. Accusations were flung. We all had some more wine. Very serious indeed.
2. Always order the special
We travelled out to the coast one morning (afternoon) to see Henry the Navigator’s navigation school, and stopped for lunch at a nearby restaurant. The restaurant, being right across from the ocean, was of course a seafood restaurant and the special was whatever they caught that morning. I believe we had originally wanted goose barnacles (percebes), but the water had been choppy that morning so none were caught. So we made due with what was available.
While people around us enjoyed chicken fingers and spaghetti (tourists!) we were treated to clams (in garlic & butter – awesome!), prawn stew, fresh fish (Dourada aka Sea Bream), and some wine. Everything was fantastic. The clams disappeared quickly, Kevin de-boned the fish for us, and even the prawns (despite looking gross) were delicious. We even ended up ordering dessert!
We must have made a scene enjoying everything, enough so that eventually the owner took notice and paid us a visit. Evidently he was glad to see someone enjoying his food so much, and, when he found Kevin was from Alte, even had drink with us (his own medronho – Portuguese moonshine – cleared Heather’s migraine real quick), and let us know we were the “table of the day”! It was a pretty cool meal, and a great introduction to seafood.
3. Crab is delicious…
…but a lot of work. On one of our last Algarve meals we made a two-hour trek to yet another seafood place, right on the coast. It’s fairly popular among locals, so we were lucky to get in without a reservation, and it turned out to be another meal worth the adventure! We enjoyed clams again (I’m a lifetime fan now), and some shrimp (had to actually tear them apart ourselves – gross!) to start.
For our main course, we actually got to pick which crab we wanted to eat (sort of morbid) and they served it fresh! [side note: up to this point Kevin had been telling me at every meal to use a fork & knife, not fingers, lest I embarrass him] I’d never had crab before, but got a quick run down: crack open the legs, pull out the meat, eat it quick before Kevin takes all the good parts! I was surprised at first because every other meal involved taking a lot more care, but eating crab was a messy, delicious, affair. At different points crab leg bits ended hitting Kevin in the face (he retaliated, and I got hit too), the table, the floor, a different table, and a window. Worth it.