21 – The Museum Mile

This is our last day… tomorrow we will go home. While Maneau and Jake opted to see the sights in the west end (the Almudena Cathedral, Royal Palace and Plaza Espana), Monica and I completed Madrid’s famous Golden Triangle of Art; the Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Reina Sophia and the Prado.

We started with a hearty breakfast just around the corner consisting of strong coffee, scrambled eggs with half-cooked bacon and hot dogs!! Protein for walking and away we went.

Our first stop was at a gorgeous little church off Gran Via called the Real Oratorio del Caballero de Gracie. It is small and cosy with beautiful frescoes in the dome and “one of Madrid’s best statues of the crucifix”. There is only one stained glass window but that is what drew me… The Last Supper window is exquisite.

Then we bought a 3-museum pass and started with the Thyssen-Bornmisza. This is such a fantastic museum holding works by the greatest renaissance and contemporary masters. Best thing about this museum is you can take photos 😀. I have posted just a sample of our favorites.

Next we found a quick lunch spot right across the plaza from our next museum. We quickly scarfed down our caesar salad and pizza and headed for the Reina Sophia. This is a contemporary art museum featuring works by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, among others. It was weird and wonderful and some of the art was beyond contemplation. Although photos were allowed in most exhibitions, they were not allowed on the Picasso floor. The most famous piece is his “Guernica”, which I fondly remember from my Grade 11 History textbook. So, I downloaded a photo from the internet to include in my post. It is an absolutely haunting depiction of the Spanish civil war.

Almost tired now, we pushed on to the third and largest museum, the Prado. Absolutely no photos allowed anywhere inside the museum 😯  so I have downloaded and included four of the more famous artworks. I can only say this is a stunning museum with incredible artwork from the 12th to 18th centuries. The Raphael’s and Ruben’s are beyond exquisite. After an hour and a half, Mon and I were rushing to get through because fatigue was upon us. One could easily spend an entire day here.

We staggered home to regroup with Maneau and Jake to share stories of our day, snacks of M’nMs and chips and start the packing process. We have covered so much in the past three weeks, our minds are exploded and our bodies worn out. Absolutely fantastic, we can’t quite find the right words. We will sleep and dream of Spain and Portugal. Thank you to Maneau and Jake for being such excellent travel companions and thank you to Monica for coordinating the entire trip… you rock, Mon!

Here are the photo highlights of Day 21- The Museum Mile

20 – Exploring Madrid

My mission today was to see some of Madrid’s churches and most popular monuments. Monica was a trooper to tag along with me. We were on the streets at 8:30 and into Iglesia San Isidro just around the corner from our apartment in time for morning mass. San Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid and his remains are held in the church along with his wife, Santa Maria. This church was also the official cathedral of Madrid until the late 1900s when the Almudena Cathedral next to the Royal Palace was complete and assumed the title.

Next we strolled to the post office to mail some postcards and then into the absolutely stunning Basilica of San Francisco el Grande. What a gorgeous church! The windows are beautiful, of course, but really take a back seat to the statuary and frescoes. Photos are not allowed but since Mon and I were the only ones there, I couldn’t resist.

Next we visited the Cathedral of the Almudena at Plaza de la Armeria, next to the Royal Palace (residence of the King). This church was begun in the 1800s but not completed until the mid 1900s when it became the official Cathedral of Madrid. It is lovely with abundant statuary, historical relics and priceless artwork. The windows are contemporary and some are exquisitely vibrant.

We carried on to see Plaza de Oriente, stopped for gelato, strolled through Plaza Espana, and unintentionally into Iglesia Santa Teresa. Nice surprise… beautiful glass… very bright church compared to some others.

Then we walked the entire length of Gran Via. Lots of construction as the city is widening the sidewalks to accommodate the increased tourism. The architecture here is sublimely Spanish… ornate and grand. We paused for lunch at James Joyce Pub for chicken salad and chicken burgers. And then, into the huge and tranquil Retiro Park. This is a wonderful 350 acre green space in an otherwise concrete city. All around people were enjoying the peace and quiet.

Back to the apartment to relax and regroup with Maneau and Jake to share stories of our day. Monica’s i-phone had registered 14.3 kms. Our feet were a bit tired but glasses of wine dulled the throb. Refreshed, the four of us strolled to nearby Plaza Mayor for an excellent meal of paella and sangria at Los Galayos. It was a wonderful day in this wonderful city.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 20 – Exploring Madrid.

19 – Madrid arriving

Up early, packed and ready to go to the airport at 9am. Our Uber taxi was efficient and had us there in 30 minutes. A bit of shopping at the duty free shop and we were on Iberia Air for the 1 hour flight to Madrid. Taxi to our apartment in the city center and we were checked in by 4pm… all thanks to Monica’s excellent planning and coordination.

The sun was shining this afternoon so we took the opportunity for a quick walk about to get our bearings. Although a city of 3 million people, Madrid’s downtown core is easy enough to get across on foot. We saw Plaza Mayor, where Maneau and Jake stayed on a visit 14 years ago… I could tell it was very nostalgic for them. We also saw the backside of the Cathedral of the Almudena next to the Royal Palace (can’t wait to visit this tomorrow). Then we made our way down Calle Atocha to find the restaurant Monica and her girlfriends had discovered three weeks earlier. It is very near Atocha train station so I snapped a couple of photos there to catch the light.

Dinner was superb at the Italian restaurant, Oven. Then home to blog and make sightseeing plans for tomorrow.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 19 – Madrid arriving.

18 – The Douro River

Fortunately, Cyclone Leslie had moved on leaving only her cloudy skirt tails. We were praying for good weather as we had booked a guided tour today with Living Tours up the Douro River valley. We gathered by Sao Bento station at 8am and chatted with other guests as we waited for our coach. We met folks from Canada, Australia, China, Brazil and the U.S.

Our guide, Daniel, greeted us and away we went. The first stop was up the river 20 kms at the charming village of Amarante. It is beautiful with its Roman arch bridge over the river leading to the town square. There we visited the Igreja of Santo Goncalo. There is a statue of him inside the church. My photo is blurry but I included it anyway because of the interesting story that goes with it. Apparently, in days of old, young girls wishing for a husband, would tug on his robe and, if something moved inside the robe 😉, they would get their wish. Today, townsfolk bake delicious pastries to sell outside the church… in the shape of, well you will see in the photos. Monica had one… I did not.

We continued up the valley, climbing higher to 500 meters for a viewpoint stop and our first look at the famous vineyards where port wine is born. The hills are extremely steep forcing the vine roots to dig way down into the slate soil to find water. The road here is narrow and winds around the side of the mountain with sheer drops over the edge. Our driver was very skilled, thank God!

Next we stopped at the village of Pinhao for lunch (included in the tour). All 30 passengers were escorted into a great little restaurant where the tables were set for us and provided with wine (as much as you wanted). The menu choice was vegetable soup to start and either grilled mackerel (me) or pork stew (Mon). Yum!

Moving on, we were now in the heart of wine county and visited the estate of Croft Port. We toured the vineyards and learned that the wine is crushed by foot. It is the best way to avoid breaking the grape seeds which would otherwise add too many tannins to the wine. After only 6 hours of fermentation, grape spitirs are added to fortify the wine and stop any further fermentation. Then the wine is sent down river to Porto to be made into Port and aged in oak barrels. In the tasting room, the guide had prepared 3 tastings for everyone; pink, ruby and tawny (my favorite).

Next on the agenda was a 1-hour boat cruise from Pinhao up the Douro to see the vineyards from water level. The entire valley is covered in vines and it is spectacular to see. No wonder this is one of the world’s most renowned wine regions. With no wind, the river was calm and the temperature just right. We met several other tour boats and even some larger cruise ships.

Then back on the bus for the return trip to Porto, stopping at a couple more stunning view points. It was thrilling to see the large white billboard names of the big Port companies on the hillsides; Dow, Warres, Sandeman, Taylor, etc. At Sabrosa, we saw the birthplace and monument to Ferdinand Magellan, 15th century explorer who charted the East Indies and first to circumnavigate the earth.

Arriving home at 7pm, it was a long day. We walked down to the riverfront for an excellent dinner of tuna and steaks. After dinner, Monica and I strolled along the quay. The night air was filled with music and wonderful smells wafting from the restaurants. Instead of climbing the 15 stories on foot, we took the funicular for 2.50€ (tired feet thanked us) up the hill and strolled out onto Pont (bridge) Luis I. We enjoyed one last time the beautiful view and night lights of Porto. That memory will stick with me forever.

Home for a nightcap of Mateus wine, made here in Portugal up the Douro valley. Here are the photo highlights of Day 18 – The Douro River. 

17 – A Rainy Day in Porto

Formerly a cyclone but reduced to a topical storm, Leslie moved up the coast of Portugal and was sitting just off Porto as we headed out for the day. So the days activities were a bit more subdued. Rain ponchos and good spirits got us going.

We started by visiting the #1 bookstore in Portugal (#3 in the world after those in San Francisco and Buenos Aires), called Livrario Lello. It is famous as one of the inspirations for Hogwarts School in Harry Potter, which makes it a magnet for thousands of icon-seeking tourists every day. Although small, it is very charming and fantastic with finely detailed woodwork, a flamboyant crimson staircase and a stained glass ceiling! Fortunately for us, we got there early enough to avoid the 2-block line-ups we had seen a couple of days earlier. An entry fee of 5€ is deducted from your purchase which certainly encourages visitors to purchase something (good marketing).

Monica and I went from there on our own to look for some artwork as a travel souvenir of Porto. We found a lovely lithograph of a typical Porto street scene onto which the artist has applied gold leaf to accentuate the building windows and lamp lights. In another shop, I found a little painted rooster to add to my menagerie. The rooster is the national emblem of Portugal and legend tells of a dead rooster’s miraculous intervention in saving a man who had been falsely accused and sentenced to death. These souvenirs are found everywhere here… most are made of plastic or glass but this one is metal (safer to transport).

As respite from the rain, we ducked momentarily into the beautiful Igreja Carmo with its exterior side wall fully covered in Azuelo tiles depicting scenes of the founding of the Carmelite order of monks. The interior is also ornately gilded with several side chapels and statues of saints.

We carried on down the streets to the river, window shopping as we went and enjoying the colorful and sometimes strange street art. We found a quaint lunch spot on the river front at Chez Lapin and ordered the cod cakes and grilled chorizo sausage which arrived at our table in flames. I was instructed by the waiter to continue cooking it myself rotisserie style… it was very good and, as usual, came with bread, olives and wine.

Back to the apartment to dry out and relax. Towards evening, my tummy was still off from lunch (too much bread and grease I think) so I opted out of dinner. Monica stayed home with me while Maneau and Jake strolled to a nearby burger restaurant, Honorato Clerigos.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 17 – A Rainy Day in Porto

16 – Viana do Castelo

Today, Jake and I took the bus 1 hour north to the coastal town of Viana do Castelo to see something truly spectacular… the Basilica Sanctuary of Santa Luzia. We took the funicular up the mountain for 3€ (round trip ticket and so worth it). Perched high up on the hills overlooking the town, it is a sight to behold. The crowds were very light this day, much to my delight, and we practically had the church to ourselves. The rose windows (3 of them) are massive and gorgeous as is the alter and the painted stations of the cross encircling it in the chancel. See Gallery/World Windows for all photos.

Jake and I climbed to the top of the sanctuary above the dome for the 360° view up the river and up and down the Portugal coast.. The climb was exhilarating with the final 10 meters of the spiral staircase akin to a squirrel squeezing up through a paper towel tube…very tight.. Then stepping out onto the narrow cupola at 300 meters above sea level just took my breath away. Hard to top that for a “closer to heaven” experience.

Back down to earth, we filled the last hour waiting for the return bus back to Porto strolling through the ancient town of Viana do Castelo. Dating to the 1200s, this town was a strategic provisional stop point for the ships of the Portuguese discovery missions.

Arriving back in Porto just as Monica and Maneau were returning from a movie matinee to see “A Star is Born”, we shared stories over glasses of wine and ordered online delivery pizza from Pizza.com Arte. We were guessing at the ingredients and hoped we weren’t ordering live chickens or goats (lots of laughs).

Here are the photo highlights of Day 16 – Viana do Castelo


15 – Exploring Porto

This was a big walking day. I did an early morning run to mail some post cards and photograph the windows at Sao Ildefonfo church just down the street. The exterior is covered in beautiful azulejo tiled scenes and the windows inside sparkled in the morning sunrise. Then home for a hearty breakfast (left over chicken from last night, eggs and cheese… protein for fuel).

Then we walked and walked over the entire upper levels of Porto seeing Clerigos Church and Tower, City Hall, Igreja Santissima Trinidade, a bustling street market and Balhao Market. Being a Saturday, the streets were absolutely packed with people (testament to the populatiry of this city) so we passed on some of our planned visits because of the long line-ups. Hopefully we can see them later. We strolled all the way down to the river front and back up for an afternoon break at Mirradouro Ignez (incredible views here overlooking the Douro River).

Back to the apartment by 4pm to put up tired feet and enjoy a glass (or two) of great port and red wine with potatoes chips. Relax and laugh. Then at 7pm, we walked a short distance to our supper destination at Petisqueira Voltaria (#5 restaurant in Porto) for a wonderful meal of Francesinha sandwiches, mini steak burgers and delicious charcuterie board washed down with excellent wine.

A gentle rain started to fall as we strolled home (our first rain since we arrived).

Here are the photo highlights of Day 15 – Exploring Porto

14 – Port tasting

I was up before the others so thought I would take a walk down to see if the cathedral was lit up in the dark. I was hopeful to see the west rose window illuminated. Easy to find (only 10 minute from our apartment) but, sadly, it was all in darkness at 7am. So back to the apartment to wait for the others to wake.

A hearty breakfast and off we went to explore. We strolled downhill toward the river, arriving first at the cathedral… I was so excited to see it. Sadly, the cathedral is under floor renovations at this time and visitors are only allowed in the vestibule. I did not get to see the beautiful west rose window. Never mind, we carried on downhill through enchanting narrow streets dotted with terracotta clay pots stuffed with succulents. I did step momentarily into St. Nicholas church to photo the large north window. Nice!

We strolled along the waterfront pausing to shop the vendor tables for souvenirs. The view across the river to Vila Nova de Guia and all the port houses is spectacular. We decided to walk across the lower level of Pont (bridge) Luis I and strolled along the river front. Every photo across the river to Porto is a great one. What a beautiful city! We stopped for a quick lunch (needed something in our tummies before tasting port) and then we climbed the streets to visit Taylor Fladgate. Dating to 1692, Joseph Taylor was from Porto and this is one of the oldest port companies. We toured the barrel rooms with audio guides in hand. This is a working port house but feels more like a museum. After the tour we tasted the port…. oh yes!

We walked back across the river on the upper level of Pont Luis I bridge. The views of the city from up here are stunning. 360 degrees of incredible! A quick stop at the neighborhood grocery store to buy food for a home cooked meal of chicken and tossed salad. And of course, great wine and port for dessert.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 14 – Port tasting.

13 – Porto arriving

We were packed and ready to go to the Lisbon train station by 8:30 am but our driver was not scheduled until 10. So, Monica and I took a stroll around the block into the LXFactory to get some shots of the street art. Wonderfully whimsical. And then we were off.

The three hour train ride was uneventful through nondescript country side. However, when the train made the bridge across the Douro River at Porto, all jaws dropped and eyes bugged out. Our first glimpse of Porto was astonishing! The city is nestled into the steep banks of the river on both sides. Gorgeous! We arrived at Sao Bento station in the city center. This station is a work of art with blue “azulejo” tiles covering most of the interior depicting scenes of ancient Portugal. Then stepping outside the station, the first sight was the equally beautiful tile covered St. Anthony church. We cannot wait to start exploring this city tomorrow.

We checked into our apartment… cosmopolitan, modern and spacious with a central secret terrace. We felt like the rich and famous. We found a grocery store just down the street and stocked up on wine and breakfast goods. While we enjoyed the wine, we made dinner plans at a steakhouse brewery only 10 minute walk away. Delicious food, again, and home to bed.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 13 – Porto arriving.

11 – Jeronimos Monestary

The morning was clear and the air was already hot by 10am as we caught tram#15 to Belem to visit the Jeronimos Monestary. My heart sank as we stepped off the tram and saw about 1000 people already in line and several other bus loads racing to get there. We waited in line for more than an hour. To pass the time, Monica and Maneau walked nearby and purchased some at from a local artist. Just 20 feet from the ticket booth, we learned that we could have purchased tickets at a kiosk across the park and skipped the line. I pass this along for anyone who might visit here in the future… DO NOT WAIT IN THE TICKET LINE TO BUY TICKETS… get them in the park and skip the line!

All that was forgotten when we entered this marvelous UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in 1495, three years after Columbus discovered America, in a style known as Manuline, “a richly ornate architectural style with complex sculptural themes incorporating maritime elements and objects discovered during naval expeditions, carved in limestone” (wikipedia). It is absolutely mind-blowing to stroll around the cloisters on two levels. Impossible to look down where you are stepping, one can only look up and around and whisper Wow! And then you move inside to the adjacent Church of Santa Maria. I was in heaven snapping shots of the stained glass windows. See Gallery/World Windows for all photos.

Nex we proceeded back to the downtown core for some more shopping and sightseeing. While Maneau and Jake went shopping, Monica and I hopped the subway to the north of the city to see the remarkable monument to Sebastiao Jose, the first Marquis de Pombal, or Prime Minister, who ruled Potrugal in 1750.

Then we strolled down the Avenida de Liberdade on the shaded pedestrian-only center amid high-end shops like Pada, Gucci, Burberry and others. The statues and monuments along the avenue are fantastic as are the artistically designed cobble stone pathways.

We came across the stunning Igreja (church) de Sao Roque, oldest Jesuit church in Portugal (1506) Although there is no stained glass, the interior is breathtaking, covered in gold that was brought back to Portugal from discovery missions. The John the Baptist chapel was once described as the most expensive chapel in Europe.

Meeting up with Maneau and Jake, we took a break at a local craft brewery, Duque. Jake tried a flight of beers and we enjoyed, olives, chorizso (spicy sausages) and herbed chips. Continuing on down the hill, we found supper at a take-out Pizza place and scarfed down delicious slices and beer. Then home.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 11 – Jeronimos Monestary.

10 – Belem and Aflama

Mon and I were up before the sun and needed coffee. We found it right across the corner… small but very strong like espresso. Then into a nearby grocery store to stock up the apartment refrigerator and returned for a nice breakfast with Maneau and Jake .

And off we went. We purchased our city transport passes (6€ gets you on any tram, bus or subway for 24 hours) and headed for the Belem district of the city (west and down river just a kilometer) where we planned to visit the huge Jeronimos Monestary. However, we learned on arriving that it is closed on Mondays. That means we’ll be back tomorrow. Carrying on, we saw the beautiful Monument to the Discoverers. Henry the Navigator started a navigation school here in the early 1400s and sent several captains across the seas to claim new lands for Portugal. The successful ones are portrayed in the monument. They symbolize the wealth that Portugal acquired in just a few decades making it a world superpower in the day.

Next we saw Belem Tower, a military fortress built to guard the mouth of the Tagus river and thus protect Lisbon from invasion by water. Again, closed on Mondays. ☹

So, back onto Tram #15 and headed to the Alfama district or the old downtown of Lisbon. Lucky this time, we visited Placa Commercio, a huge open plaza where ships would have unloaded imports in medieval times. It is marked by the statue of King Jose I and the Arco de Rua Augusta. We had lunch there at the Museum of Cervezas; cod cakes stuffed with cheese, fish soup, and shrimp salad. Yum!

Recharged, we climbed the streets, up up and up until we came to the Cathedral of Lisbon, known as the Sé. Wow is not quite right. It is remarkable and over 800 years old, full of treasures like the huge cork nativity scene. The stained glass is gorgeous. My special moment was climbing to the museum level (5 stories) where I walked right up to and touched the west rose window. I thought I was going to pass out!

Next we continued to climb higher and higher (Lisbon is so steep) and finally made to St. George Castle. There has been a fortification on this hill since before Christ. The current structure is a result of many renovations and expansions over the centuries. It is a fascinating site to tour with unparalleled views across Lisbon and the Tagus River. Surprise, they sell Port wine and complimentary plastic wine glasses. We really enjoyed ourselves in the shade of ancient olive trees.

Then back to the apartment to cool off and rest before dinner… a short walk to the river front at 5 Oceans restaurant for a beautiful fish dinner: Trio appetizers (mackerel, sardines and cod tongues), monkfish, giant shrimp and cockfish. Full and happy, we strolled home for a port nitecap. Sleep.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 10 – Belem and Alfama


9 – Lisbon arriving

We were up early, packed and ready to go with two hours to kill before our train departure for Lisbon. So, the four of us took a final walk to the beach to see the sun rise on the cliffs. It was absolutely spectacular. The sea was calm and the tide was out so we could walk around the point to a private beach we did not see earlier, closer to the sea stacks and caves. It was a perfect backdrop for photos.

Our favorite taxi driver, Sonya, picked us up at 11:30 and took us to Portimao train station. Hugs and we were on our way.

Three hours later we arrived at Sete Rios station and were greeted by our host, Nuno (charming young man), and delivered to our apartment. He had wine waiting for us! We are in the LXFactory region of Lisbon which is a rejuvenated industrial zone. Once bustling with factories in the early 20th century, it fell into an abandoned state for years until it was recently made over into trendy shops, restaurants and night clubs. The streets were full of people when we arrived. Colorful lights, music and laughter filled the night air.

Nino gave us a thorough, if rapid, overview of what to see and where to go. He then took us around the corner and made dinner reservations for us at his favorite seafood restaurant, Da Placa. The rest of the evening was spent enjoying great food… salmon ceviche, baked cod and pork skewers.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 9 – Lisbon arriving

8 – Ferragudo lunch

Up early to do some blogging, I took a walk to the beach for some sunrise shots. With not another soul in sight, I had this remarkable seascape all to myself. The illuminated sea stacks were zen-like in their strange beauty.

After breakfast, we walked into Ferragudo for some shopping. I got into the church that was closed earlier in the week. Small and lovely with several side chapels and the chancel all having statues to the Saints. There was only one stained glass window at the back of the church of Mary. It is old and the paint is worn yet graceful and relevant with a maritime motif .

We enjoyed walking through the streets marvelling at the many ceramic tiles adorning both people’s homes and public places. Along the waterfront, fishermen were mending their nets and seagulls cried overhead. Peaceful yet busy.

Lunch, at Sueste seafood restaurant on the waterfront, was an experience like never before. We chose our fresh fish from the cooler and then watched as our waiter gutted, butterflied and grilled them right in front of us. Mon and I had the Golden Bream and Maneau and Jake had Sea Bass.

Our last afternoon in Ferragudo was spent lounging on the Villa terrace reminiscing our adventure so far and planning next moves. The wine went down easily watching the sun shimmer on the ocean. We went for dinner at 7pm at our favorite restaurant, Lux (on the resort property). Chef Mark and his wife, Carla, served up another fantastic meal. We have explored the menu fully in the three meals we have had here… everything was superb. My favorite dish of all was the goat cheese salad… it had bacon, pears, tomatoes, zucchini and lots of goat cheese drizzled with raspberry mayonnaise!

Then home to pack the suitcases. Sad to leave, this coast of the Algarve is a paradise. Tomorrow we head for Lisbon. Here are the photo highlights of Day 8 – Ferragudo lunch.

7 – Silves

Today we decided to take an excursion with our favorite taxi driver, Sonya, to a nearby town 10 kms away  called Silves. Dating to Roman times, it became the capital of the Algarve under Moorish rule (700-1100 ad) and was the military stronghold of the nation. The crowning glory of the town is the largest Moorish castle in Portugal. Made of red sandstone, it is impressive, unique and once contained the palace of the sultan. Walking around the castle walls and climbing the turrets gives a commanding view over the river and surrounding countryside. Complete with gardens, underground grain silos and cistern wells, soldiers were self-sufficient here inside the castle for up to a year.

Next to the castle is the cathedral of Silves. Dating to the 13th century, it predates decorative stained glass but still had lovely tall and narrow gothic windows with colored glass. The cathedral has not been modernized in any way… floors still bear the worn footpaths of worshipers in the rock, statues are faded and dusty giving the church an even more ancient feel.

Lunch was at Marisqueria Rui, the #1 rated seafood restaurant in the Algarve. We were lucky to get there when we did to find a table… ten minutes later the place was packed with locals (a sign of good food) noisily bashing their crabs and with little wooded mallets. I had sea snails! …and they were awesome.

For the next hour, we souvenir shopped and stopped for a cool drink at a local craft brewery. Then time for our taxi return to Ferragudo and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon on the terrace watching the sun sinking the Atlantic. It was a great day.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 7 – Silves

6 – the beach

The morning dawned clear and bright. We could see down the coast all the way to Cape St. Vincent… south-western most point of Portugal. The main objective for the day was to enjoy the beach and swim in the ocean.

Well, let me tell you, Portugal has gorgeous beaches. The chalk cliffs have eroded creating golden sand the consistency of corn meal. At 10am, we walked the half kilometer from the Villa to the beach just in time to get the last four front row lounge chairs. The morning was already hot and people were already in the water… and the water is beautiful; warm, turquoise, sandy bottom and you float like a cork. Although no wind, there was a swell on the ocean creating lovely wave curls as they hit the shore much to the delight of the swimmers. Some were even body surfing. Monica had a little trouble standing in the surf and was tumbled backwards. The life guard made a heroic dash to her rescue much to the amusement of all, especially Monica (he was quite handsome).

After the beach, we retired to the pool at the Villa to “cool” off (hardly cool but very refreshing. Drinks on our terrace before dinner and then sauntered down to the Lux restaurant for another great meal of mussels. It was a fun relaxing day. We needed that to charge up for tomorrow’s adventure (I’m excited).

Here are the photo highlights of Day  – the beach

5 – Ferragudo and dinner

Up before the sun and down to the reception area to blog, it was just a wee bit on cool side until the sun came up. Then back to our apartment to enjoy coffee on the terrace and watch the ships come and go from the harbour. A hearty breakfast in the Villa and the four of us walked to the downtown area of Ferragudo to explore this ancient fishing village. Along the walk we marvelled at the beautiful Adobe style mansions overlooking the ocean.

In town, we found wonderful souvenir shopping. The cork products are unique to Portual where 90% of the world’s cork comes from. Shoes, purses, hats, belts and trinkets of every sort. We mailed some post cards and found a table in the main square for a cold drink. We climbed the streets to the highest point in the village to see the church (closed) but enjoyed the panoramic view across the harbour to Portimao. The back streets of the village are enchanting with exotic flowers cascading over the beautiful ceramic tile walls. Then back to our Villa to cool off at the pool.

For dinner, we took a cab to Portimao for our 7pm reservations at NoSoloAgua. This restaurant is unbelievable… right on the beach with views across the harbour to Ferragudo, and designed with reflecting pools in the center. Sergio, our waiter, was witty and charming, and brought us amazing food, which just seems to get better and better. Monica said “best tuna steak ever!” I had sushi (pause for dramatic effect), Maneau had sea bass and Jake had seafood mix. Totally delicious followed by drink appertifs. Did I mention the live band was playing familiar 60s and 70s music, all in English. Smiles and laughter abounded.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 5 – Ferragudo.

4 – Ferragudo arriving

We were up early to catch the 9:30 bus from Seville to Faro (3 hrs) in Portugal’s Algarve region and then transferred to the train from Faro to Ferragudo (1hr)… a quaint fishing village and neighbour to the city of Portimao. Quiet and peaceful.

It was a long hot day of travelling and we were tired and hungry when we got there. All that was quickly forgotten when we walked into our apartment at the Villa Giavota Resort in Ferragudo. Just a step from 100 foot cliffs, this resort is composed of several apartments of sparkling white Adobe surrounded by exotic gardens. All the rooms open onto the terrace with stunning views of the ocean and across the harbour to Portimao.

The four of us immediately donned our bathing suits and headed for the resort swimming pool. Sooooo refreshing! After a swim, Jake and I strolled to the lighthouse to get some shots just as the afternoon sun was illuminating the entire coast and hills. Wow! I’m glad we will be staying here for the next five days.

Dinner was phenomenal at the resort restaurant called “Lux”. Known for its 5-star burgers, I had the double salmon burger; steamed and smoked salmon together. 😃 The restaurant owners are the chef and his wife, Carla, our server. They were wonderful and came to our table after we ate to chat and learn about us. How nice!

We do not have internet in our apartment, only in the reception area, so I am not sure if I can keep on schedule with my daily blog… we will see.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 4 – Ferragudo arriving.

3 – Seville: the Cathedral

Today was an incredible experience… we visited the third largest church in the world… Seville Cathedral. It is out of this world with ancient history and mystery. Dating to the 1200’s and built on an original Mosque site, it is way to large to capture in a single photo, and you could walk around it several times seeing something new each time. The highlights were the stained glass windows (of course), the 35 story giralda (bell tower) which Jake and I climbed, and the tomb of Christopher Columbus (magnificent). For all photos, see Gallery/World Windows.

After the cathedral, Monica and Maneau went shopping while Jake and I went on a craft brewery walking tour. Prices here are so reasonable compared to Canadian standards. However, after finding several of the bars closed, we are learning quickly that mid afternoon is siesta time and most establishments shut down for a couple of hours. So we shall do the same while in Spain.

After siesta, our evening was capped with the best meal of tapas and wine we have had so far. The food here is fantastic! Then a night-cap of Spanish made orange wine at a local bar famous for its flamenco… sadly, no flamenco tonight.

That’s it for Seville. Three days of eyes wide open, head swiveling, jaw dropping Spanish flamboyance. I loved it here. We will leave in the morning for southern Portugal but Seville will always be someplace I would love to return.

Here are the highlights of Day 3- Seville Cathedral.




2 – Seville hop on/off and the Setas

Mon and I were up early (still dark) so we went or a 4 km sroll though the city to eventually find coffee to take back to the apartment. Streets were not deserted but all was quiet except or the occasional small party group just staggering home.

We came across the Setas (Spanish for mushrooms), the world’s largest wooden sculpture. Designed to represent giant mushrooms, this structure can be climbed for panoramic views across Seville (we would do that later in the day). We also saw the Toro del Oro (golden tower) on the banks of the Gudalquivir River, dating to 1220 built as a military watch tower to guard the city. Finally, coffee and breakfast.

Our city walk brought us first to an outdoor artist’s market where we bought a watercolor of Plaza d’Espana. Next, we decided a Hop on/Hop off bus tour would give us a good orientation and history of the city. We enjoyed the views from the top floor of the open-air bus. Even though it was 32°, the breeze felt nice. We hopped off in the Triana district for tapas. Very busy here as a religious procession (parade) was just beginning.

Back to the apartment for a siesta and then off again for the evening stroll to see the Setas (oh my… the view from up there) and then dinner at the #1 ranked craft brewery in Seville, Maquila. The food was amazing!

A wonderful day. Here are the photo highlights of Day 2 -Seville.

1- Seville arriving

We made it… and after 36 hours without sleep, we couldn’t do much more than find our apartment and them stagger downtown to find some supper at a fantastic restaurant called Genova right across the street from Seville cathedral.

After supper we wandered over to the out-of-this-wold Plaza Espana for some sunset shots. Built for the 1929 World Fair, it is a stunning showstopper of painted mosaic tiles all surrounded by a moat where visitors can paddle boats and enjoy the ducks. Then back to our apartment for an early night. Tomorrow, we will be much more alert and ready to explore this ancient city.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 1-Seville.