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!

 

Road Trip Days 2 & 3: Visiting Marvao

Ok, so the last few posts have detailed some fairly magical sights. But to be honest, there’s more to come here. This trip was pretty surreal, and we saw many memorable places.

The driving on the trip may also have been a bit much, but in this case it turned out to be worth it. After driving 2.5 hours to Piodao, we spent a couple of hours exploring this small yet remarkable village. And then we got back in the truck and Kevin drove us another 3 hours to Marvao, a city on a hill right on the border of Portugal and Spain. About an hour into this trip, I was really questioning this decision, but when we drove up to this walled-city on a foggy night, all doubts were forgotten.

Here’s what you need to know about Marvao (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Commanding spectacular views across the Tagus basin (the same river to connects Lisbon to the Atlantic) and Serra de Estrela (highest point in Portugal) to the north, the fortified rock of Marvão has been a site of significant strategic importance since the earliest human settlements. Today lying on the ‘raia’ that divides Portugal and Spain, Marvão has consistently stood on a frontier zone between peoples: Celtici, Vettones and Lusitani (4th-2nd century BCE); Lusitanians and the Romans ofHispania Ulterior (2nd-1st century BCE); migratory Suevi, Alans, Vandals and Visigoths (5th-7th century CE); conquering moors and Visigoths (8th century); muwallad rebels and the Cordoban emirate (9th-10th century); Portuguese nation-builders and Moors (12th-13th century); Templars and Hospitallers (12th-14th century); Portuguese and Castilians (12th century-present day); Liberals and Absolutists (19th century); the fascist regimes of Salazar and Franco (20th century).

Marvão’s natural assets have contributed to the ‘uniqueness’ of this remote village as perceived by visitors today: (i) as nigh-impregnable ‘eagle’s nest’ fortress – perched high on a granite crag, and bordered on the south and west by the Sever river; (ii) as vital lookout-point towards the Alcántara Bridge (70 km (43 mi) away), a wide stretch of the Tagus basin and the Serra de Estrela; (iii) as a gateway to Portugal from Spain via the Porta da Espada (‘Sword Gate’) mountain pass of the Serra de São Mamede. These assets have ensured its status as the ‘Mui Nobre e Sempre Leal Vila de Marvão’ (Very Noble and Ever-Loyal Town) into the present day.

As with other 11th-13th-century castles, the early medieval improvements and development of Marvão castle reflect the innovations brought back by crusading orders from the near east (notably the highly influential Hospitaller castle in Syria, the Krak des Chevaliers). The medieval castle seen in Marvão today mostly post-dates the year 1299, and features numerous characteristic features of a crusader-era castle: a tall central keep with raised entrance on the first floor; a series of lower, outlying turrets (some semi-circular); high-placed arrow-slits; open spaces to aid the sheltering and assembly of villagers and troops; a well, and huge rain-collecting cistern to supply water to both keep and the wider castle in the event of siege; bent entrances (both on the village and castle gates) to slow down invaders in the event of breached gates; a series of narrow killing zones (notably, in the triple gate on the village-side of the castle); extensive crenellated battlements and curtain walls that enhanced the natural defences provided by the escarpments of Marvão’s rock.[22]

That’s only a smattering of interesting information about Marvao, as this place is filled with historical significance. When we arrived at night fog filled the town, we had to park the truck just outside of the gates in order to walk to our hotel (we stayed and ate at the the Casa do Alentejo, where we were welcomed with the traditional and impressive Alentejo hospitality). With the characteristic preservation of the buildings’ historical style, it felt like we were walking back in time. After a lengthy dinner, we got some sleep, then woke up early for breakfast and further touring. We explored all through the town and the castle, and were constantly in awe of the view and the spirit of the region. Similar to Sintra, looking across the hills you could easily imagine what it was like to look across that view 1000 years ago. A very cool feeling that won’t soon be forgotten.

Check out our photos below!

Roadtrip Day 2: Piodao

When I say that Kevin researched and planned our road trip with Tyler, I don’t mean that lightly. As soon as Tyler booked his tickets to visit, the research began. And not just some simple google searches of ‘best sights in Portugal’. If Kevin has ever helped you with anything, you know that his research-style is all-in and he stops at nothing to get the best possible outcome. Nothing exemplifies this more than our stop off in Piodao.

A few weeks before the trip, Kevin showed me a photo of a place that looked amazing, and told me that it was a must-do stop. When I convinced him to shorten the road trip from 6 days to 3, Piodao was one of those places that was a must-see, not to be compromised. And he was so, so right.

After our morning at the Knights Templar’s Convent of Christ in Tomar, we got back into the truck and embarked on what I can honestly say is the wildest, most breathtaking and most nerve-racking road trip of my life. Before I get into too many road trip details, let’s talk about why Piodao is special and worth seeing.

Piodao, known as the “nativity village” is a small collection of stone buildings, tucked into a mountain side. Unlike most of the places we’ve visited on this trip, Piodao, due to its remote geographic location, was almost entirely disconnected from Portuguese history. How disconnected? This village didn’t have electricity until the 1970s. This geographic isolation is what makes Piodao so unique – because they were limited to local resources, which is reflected in the architecture of the town itself, their traditions were well-preserved over the years, due to a lack of outside influences. Entering Piodao, picturesquely placed in between 2 hills in a mountain range, feels like entering a fairy tale. As you stand on the hillside, you can even hear the echo of jingling bells from the goat herds. My only regret of this entire trip is that we didn’t stay longer.

Now, about that road trip. It was long and a bit harrowing. And as the trip went on, we felt increasingly alone. There were long stretches (on this 2.5 hour drive) without seeing other people and cars, though we did see a herd of goats crossing the road. We climbed up into the mountaintops, driving along winding roads, on the edge of cliffs, surrounded by clouds. I was both in awe of the view and in awe of Kevin’s patience & composure while navigating these roads. There’s absolutely no way that a bus could have made this journey.

Visiting Piodao was a truly surreal and magical experience. I recommend it very much. And beyond being beautiful, the town itself offers great food and friendly people. Check out our many photos below!