In Honour of the Mitsubishi

The somewhat unnamed guest (or host, rather) on all of our Portugal adventures was the purple and silver Mitsubishi, the pick-up truck of Kevin’s late grandfather, Avô Eugenio.

This mammoth of a truck represents countless memories for Kevin and his brother, who spent their summers in the Algarve with their grandparents.

Until recently, Avo Maria kept the Mitsubishi in her garage, where it took up approximately 95% of available space. I’ve never seen a truck-to-garage ratio like it, and I was impressed both times I watched Kevin park it back in there.

During our time in Portugal, we also made our fair share of memories in this truck. A thoroughly Algarvieu vehicle, we’re not sure it had even seen rain until we road-tripped north of Lisbon with my brother, Tyler.

It was the driver of many interesting off road adventures, allowing us to explore and appreciate the Algarve in all of its glory. It took us across the Algarve, and north into Lisbon several times. Its rear gearing wasn’t exactly highway tolerable, so we always took the slower country roads all through the Alentejo. Thanks to the truck, we know an outrageous amount of back roads and countryside routes.

Through most of our time in Portugal, Kevin drove me everywhere in the Mitsubishi – roadtrips, dinners, beach days, and more. When Kevin’s best friend Mark came to visit, I actually learned to drive a manual transmission so that I could chauffeur the two of them to and from the Algarve night life.

My adventures with Kevin and Mark popularized the phrase “give it the beans” in my life, and also resulted in one of the funniest events I ever witnessed in the Algarve: Kevin and Mark soaking wet eating and drinking out of the back of the Mitsubishi as Albufeira morning traffic began. After a night at a Kiss Night Club foam party, we couldn’t go home without snacks. So I parked the Mitsubishi (a foot away from the curb) and they turned the back of the truck into a dining room. I’ve never seen two people laugh so hard in my life.

This amazingly pristine vehicle, a 1995 Mitsubishi pick-up truck, was recently sold to a British expat. And so ends our adventures with the wonderful purple and silver Mitsubishi. Pretty sad, actually, but we’re both carrying a ton of memories forward.

Photos below of our adventures in the truck:

 

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tbt: Summer of 2015 and learning how to ‘beach’

Going to the beach is a sport in the Algarve. In the Algarve, people stay in between January and April, as it’s cold, most things are closed, and seasonal employees are out of work.

Come late April, early May, the Algarvieu (Algarvians) come out to play. And that means hitting up the beach with a level of deep seriousness.

To say the weather here is perfect is a complete understatement. As the spring and summer progress, and the weather gets hotter, you see the entire landscape becoming busy. More traffic, more people, more restaurants, and more sun!

Growing up, I’d only been to the beach a handful of times. The Page kids were not into beach life; no sand in our toes, no seaweed on our feet, no sunburns on our skin, thank you very much.

The Silva kids were the complete opposite. Spending most summers in the Algarve, with all their local friends in Alte, Kevin and his brother were total beach kids who spent many, many hours playing on the beach, swimming in the ocean, enjoying the sun.

I had a lot to learn, but luckily for me I was learning how to “beach” with the help of an expert.

In June, and July, we went to the beach almost everyday. And there were A LOT of beaches to choose from. Beautiful white sand beaches with crystal-blue water aren’t just for the Carribbean, people! Algarve beaches are famously beautiful, and we were spoiled enough to have multiple amazing beaches within just a 20 minute drive. In doing a bit of pre-writing research, I realized that some of the most “well reviewed” beaches are places we never went to, but it’s hard to justify driving an hour to a perfect beach when you have 6 almost-perfect beaches to choose from in your backyard!

So, how does one beach?

There are only a few things required:

  • water, and lots of it. My beach bag contained at least 8 water bottles at all times.
  • towels, 1.5 per person. I always had 3 towels for Kevin and I, so we could lay them out in a way that would keep ourselves and the towels sand-free
  • hats. With the Algarve sun, a hat is essential
  • euros – there’s a restaurant/bar at almost every beach, and the best way to end your day is with a bottle of wine at sunset (bars with a good wine selection are preferred).
  • paddle-ball equipment – surprisingly fun, and good exercise
  • tanning oil (for Kevin and all our Portuguese friends)
  • immense amounts of sunscreen for me (I also had a pre-departure routine that included sunscreening my entire body, head toe)
  • tanning technique – not as easy as one might think. You need to keep regular movement throughout the day to get an even tan all over your body. And pay attention to the sun, so you can angle yourself appropriately. Whether standing or laying down, you need to tack with the movement of the sun in order to get maximum rays.
  • sunglasses. duh.
  • e-readers. essential activity when you’re growing that tan on the sand
  • beer in a cooler – not required every time, but you need both together whenever required.
  • Google Maps – a required assistant when scanning the coast in search of a hidden beach!

It’s hard to get a proper list of the beaches we went to, because all our friends referred to the beaches based on local history and/or the name of the restaurant at the beach. And some of the beaches were “hidden”, aka only limited walking access, which means the only way you can find them is by carefully scanning Google Maps’ Satellite View. In any case, we did take a lot photos, which you can peruse below!

#tbt – My friend Anne came to visit us in Portugal!

One of the loveliest benefits of spending time in Portugal was the proximity to some of my fellow Canadian friends. One such friend, Anne, was working in London for the first half of 2015. Before she headed back to Canada, she took a quick jaunt to Alte, where we spent a few days enjoying the sunshine.

Between her travels and my travels, Anne and I don’t get to see each other too often. And yet, we’ve been friends since we were 11, and that means that when do get together, it’s like we were never apart. I was acutely reminded of this when she came to visit us in Portugal. With Kevin laid up in bed, suffering through his recent implants surgery, Anne and I had plenty of time to explore Alte together. Activities included long walks, sitting in the sun, and drinking espressos, going for a trail run, and talking constantly.

Despite being in pain and needing rest, Kevin was also generous enough to drive us for a wonderful sunset/dinner combination. Kevin is an outstanding host, who puts quite a bit of thought into showing guests the very best of the Algarve, so we were lucky that he got out of bed to entertain us. The next day we spent laying out on the beach with several of our Portuguese friends, which is a classic Algarve experience. In retrospect, it was asking way too much of Kevin to take us around like this. Never have I regretted so much my inability to drive standard/manual.

In any case, Anne’s visit was a lot of fun. With Kevin’s injuries/dental work, our time in Portugal was a bizarre combination of amazing and stressful. It was so relaxing for me to have one of my oldest friends check in help me review all the things that were on my mind. Moral of the story? Never underestimate the the goodness your friends can bring to your own mental health. With this experience in mind, I was so stoked when Kevin’s best friend Mark came to visit a couple of months later – and for that, I actually did learn to drive standard. There’ll be much more on that adventure soon 🙂

Anne and I were having too much fun to take many photos, but I’ve snagged a few of Anne’s from Facebook, which you can see below:

Visiting Sagres

Throughout the duration of Tyler’s trip to Portugal, I was incredibly ill. I slept most of the time and felt terribly shivery and gross for most of the time that I wasn’t sleeping. As a result, I didn’t get out for too many excursions, and Tyler’s blog posts have covered the majority of his second week with us in Portugal, where we relaxed in the Algarve.

There was one trip for which I did manage to drag myself out of bed: a day trip to the Fort at Sagres.

Sagres is the most south-west point of Portugal, with a large landmass that juts out into the ocean. The Fort of Sagres occupies this space, a place connected to Portugal’s history of exploration. The Fort may or may not have been connected to the work for Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator:

It is traditionally suggested that Henry gathered at his villa on the Sagres peninsula a school of navigators and map-makers. However modern historians hold this to be a misconception. He did employ some cartographers to chart the coast of Mauritania after the voyages he sent there, but there was no center of navigation science or observatory in the modern sense of the word, nor was there an organized navigational center.[7]

Referring to Sagres, sixteenth century Portuguese mathematician and cosmographer, Pedro Nunes, remarked, “”from it our sailors went out well taught and provided with instruments and rules which all map makers and navigators should know.”[8]

The view that Henry’s court rapidly grew into the technological base for exploration, with a naval arsenal and an observatory, etc., although repeated in popular culture, has never been established.[9][10][11] Henry did possess geographical curiosity, and employed cartographers. Jehuda Cresques, a noted cartographer, has been said to have accepted an invitation to come to Portugal to make maps for the infante. This last incident probably accounts for the legend of the School of Sagres, which is now discredited. (Wikipedia)

The location was stunning. Walking along the cliffs, watching birds fly above the waves, and looking back at the rather flat, open space of the fort, it was a beautiful scene. As far as museums go, it was fairly unimpressive. Very little information was offered about what we were looking at, though Wikipedia has suggested that the Fort’s importance is up for debate, which may explain the lack of concrete information at the site.

In either case, it was a lovely day, made even better by a really fantastic seafood lunch. We dined at A Sagres, the closest restaurant to the Fort. While those around us were eating spaghetti and other such nonsense, we requested the daily specials, and were treated to an amazing seafood stew and freshly caught fish.

On the way home we took a scenic route along the coast. We stopped at a beautiful beach, and took a detour for a supposed ‘archaeological site of interest’ that was actually just a field.

Check out our photos to enjoy the view:

Road Trip Day 3: Evora & Illness & the Algarve

After waking up in Marvao and spending our morning exploring, we set off to Evora. Of course, Tyler rolled his ankle on those beautiful cobblestone streets the night before, and I woke up feeling the beginning of a fever. Still, we had 2 more stops on our road trip, beginning with the city of Evora, followed by the nearby Monsaraz, then the city of Beja. By the time we had lunch, Kevin realized his couple of Pages were too ill, and he promptly drove us the last 3 hours home to the Algarve.

Before our trip was cut short, we did get to explore Evora. We also had an incredible lunch at a restaurant that only serves 9 people at a time. “Botequim da Mouraria” is run by a welcoming Portuguese couple. In their small restaurant, there’s bar seating only, which means that we were incredibly lucky to arrive in time for lunch and find 3 empty chairs waiting for us. The service and the food were excellent. This was one of those places Kevin had found in the course of his detailed research, and it was very much worth the hype.

After lunch, we explored Evora and its incredible history. A very old city, Evora still has Roman ruins and an incredible variety of historic architecture. On all our other stops, I read aloud to the guys various historical fun facts. Being sick in Evora meant that I didn’t really do this, and so we learned a bit less there than everywhere else. The city is more than 2000 years old, and was occupied by the Celts and the Moors before becoming the #2 city in Portugal for a time, becoming the site of much lavish spending on the behalf of Portuguese rulers.

Here are a couple of other fun facts about Evora:

Évora has a history dating back more than two millennia.

It was known as Ebora by the Celts, a tribal confederacy, south of the Lusitanians (and of Tagus river), who made the town their regional capital.

The etymological origin of the name Ebora is from the ancient Celtic word ebora/ebura, plural genitive of the word eburos (yew), name of a species of tree, so its name means “of yew tree.” The city of York, in northern England, at the time of the Roman Empire, was called Eboracum/Eburacum, named after the ancient Celtic place name Ebora Kon (Place of Yew Trees), so the old name of York is etymologically related to the city of Évora.[6]

(Wikipedia)

Évora is also remarkable for reasons other than its monumental heritage related to significant historic events. The 16th century was a time of major urban planning and great intellectual and religious influence. While Évora also has many noteworthy 16th-century patrician houses (Cordovil house, the house of Garcia de Resende), the unique quality of the city arises from the coherence of the minor architecture of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. This unity finds its overall expression in the form of numerous low whitewashed houses, decorated with Dutch tiles and wrought-iron balconies and covered with tile roofs or terraces which line narrow streets of medieval configuration and which in other areas bears witness to the concentric growth of the town until the 17th century. It also served to strengthen the fundamental unity of a type of architecture that is perfectly adapted to the climate and the location.

Évora remained mainly undamaged by the great earthquake of 1755 that destroyed many towns in Portugal, including Lisbon. The monuments of the Historic Centre of Évora bear witness to their profound influence on Portuguese architecture in Brazil.

(UNESCO)

In retrospect, while we recognized how beautiful Evora was, I was a bit too sick to recognize and appreciate the signs of its long storied history. It was also clearly packed with tourists from all of the world, which became a bit of a distraction itself. All the same, we managed to take a few photos. Enjoy!

 

A Trip to the Algarve – Kevin’s backyard

The moment I told Kevin I’d booked my flight, he went into trip planning mode. Two weeks was a lot of time to fill, but it got booked up fairly quickly. We considered and rejected visiting the North & Porto (too far), some additional castles (I rolled my ankle), another historical town (Heather got sick), and a winery (we slept in). But still we ended up seeing a lot. A couple days sightseeing in Lisbon, a few days on the road being steeped in history, and finally a full week exploring the Algarve.

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🎶 “…One is a genius, the other’s insane” 🎶

As Heather has recapped some of the Lisbon tour and the road trip, I’ll share a couple of our day trips exploring the Algarve.

Avo Olimpia & Exploring Town

Because Heather works remotely and at night (Australia hours) we usually get a pretty late start our day. We typically didn’t wake up, shower, have breakfast (a Canadian tradition apparently) and a cafe [Editor’s note, we now refer to ‘coffee’ in Portuguese, hence ‘cafe’], and head out until at least noon. Avo Olimpia, on the other hand, is much busier in the morning. Everyday when I would wander downstairs to scrounge up some breakfast around 10am, she would be well into her day – a trip to the market complete, laundry washed-dried-folded, and soap-opera watched. I’d get a “bon dia, bread’s on the table” and she’d be off yet again, now to the cafe with friends. She’s always on the move, and we rarely knew where to.

One day I got the grand tour of the town and Kevin’s childhood playground. We walked to the pool, fed ducks in the creek, and saw the old-old church, the new-old church and pointed out every coffee place in town (there were many). There were some really cool sights too! Other than the history (“so the Romans built those walls”, “this buidling pre-dates Canada” etc.) my favourite sight was the giant Portuguese flag overlooking the entire town. Apparently during a previous World Cup (soccer…er I mean, football) some kids had scaled a nearby hill and painted a Portugese flag to cheer on their nation. This act of fan-dalism has since remained, and honestly looks pretty great!

I thought Grimsby (pop 20,000) was a small town where everyone knows everyone, but Alte puts it to shame. Throughout the week of exploring we rarely walked down the street without stopping to chat with a neighbour, old friend, or relative because everyone knows each other. Case in point: Alte, it turns out, is so small you can accidently run into family. On one of our urban tours we stumbled upon Avo. We chatted for a bit with her friends (all in Portuguese so have no idea what was said, but assume my height and fair skin were questioned) but she was too busy for us (going dancing?) and we each continued on our separate ways.

All in all I enjoyed seeing this small town.

Avo Maria, The Farm, and the old House

While we spent the week with Avo Olimpia, one of our day trips included a visit to see Avo Maria and some of the family farm land. If it was nice having fruit trees in the yard for fresh juice, then visiting Avo Maria was a delight. She has fruit trees as far you can see – grapefruits, oranges, lemons, limes, whatever – just sitting there ready to be picked! I got a tour of the farm (included more Kevin stories “used to climb this tree”, “had a tire swing here”) and we loaded up on fruit, all while dodging chickens underfoot.

The most hilarious part of this day trip was meeting Daisy. Daisy is Avo Maria’s older but still very much active dog. She followed us around for the whole tour, chasing chickens and keeping us entertained. As we got back to the house though, she surprised all of us by hunting down and catching a pigeon out of mid-air before scampering off to finish her treat!

The Beach

One of my favourite Algarve day trips included visiting a beach hidden from the mainroads and mostly known to locals. Here we got to walk the beach for a little while with the sand, sun, and ocean breeze all to ourselves. Kevin knows about the place because he used to visit with his grandfather and fish for clams in the summer. We got a full theatrical explanation of how he would walk in neck deep water (“it was up to here!”) trying to keep up with his grandfather while fighting the ocean (“current was trying to suck me out the whole time!”) so they could eat fresh seafood for dinner. It was a neat story which gave a beautiful pit-stop all the more meaning.

As were leaving the beach we noticed it had rained earlier (sidenote – apparently it rained so much during my visit I’m not allowed back, bad luck) and the dirt parking lot was now filled with mud. So while Heather rolled her eyes Kevin and I hooked up the camera and drove circles through the mud having a blast! Check it out:

Doesn’t get any better than that.

A Trip to the Algarve – A Culinary Experience

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.

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Angkor Watt with these two (and KP), a world away – nice hat Kevin

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!

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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.