Ed’s Portugal Week 4

The biggest highlight of this week was the arrival of our friends Jan and Ken Cooke.  We are very excited that are spending some time with us here in the Algarve.

ImageOne of the first things we did with them is to show them around Olhao and popped into Vai e Volta restaurant for a typical lunch.  We have eaten here before and blogged about it already, so suffice it to say…it was excellent.

ImageImageWe booked a cooking class for us and on Wednesday, we experienced Cataplana cooking style.  First though, the chef took us to the market where we bought all the supplies that we needed for the meal.  What was nice about this was that he was able to explain many of the things we have seen but never knew what they were plus, he identified some fish so we would have a better idea of what to buy.

The fresh veggies were easy to pick out and everything is locally produced and fresh.  For the fish, he chose an incredibly ugly looking monkfish and it was extremely interesting watching the fish monger clean this thing.  The monkfish was chosen because of the quality of the meat and because it has very few bones to content with.  He also included the fish liver which we really weren’t excited about but it is considered a delicacy and very tasty.  In addition, we picked up some local clams and some prawns.

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Monk Fish!

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Cleaning the Monk Fish

Back to the house for the preparation of the ingredients: onions, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, a small chili pepper.  Once everything is prepared, you start layering the food starting with some of the clams on the bottom so the veggies won’t burn.  So…clams, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, then again more layers of vegetables.  You save the fish, prawns and remainder of clams for the last 15 minutes of cooking time.  Close the lid and let it simmer.

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Karen and Ken hard at work

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clams first

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The monk fish is along the outside and the liver is in the middle

In the meantime, we made some dessert with almonds, sugar and carob flour ground up together.  Add an egg white, mush it all together and roll into small balls.  Viola…your done!

ImageThe end result of our seafood cataplana was fantastic!  Great flavours, nicely cooked and served with an obligatory glass of wine.  And yes, I ate a piece of the fish liver…mushy consistency but with a nice mild fish flavour…it wasn’t that bad although I won’t be running out to buy some!

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Yum…the end result was fantastic!

Following the cooking class, a stroll through Tavira which is touted as a very nice tourist spot.  It was very nice but hardly a bustling tourist town.

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Tavira’s Castle

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Jan and Karen in Tavira

ImageA beautiful highlight of the week was the day we went to Lagos and Portimao.  On the way, we stopped at some Roman ruins in Milreu which were interesting and dated back from the 3 or 4th century right through to the 15 or 16th century.  The Romans were everywhere in Europe in their conquests and you can see Roman built ruins in many places.

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4th Century Sanctuary

Destination Lagos – we are moving there in February but wanted to make sure the Cooke’s saw the stunning beaches and cliffs that the area is famous for.  It was a little cool and windy that day but well worth the drive.  You can see by the pictures below that it was gorgeous.

ImageImageImageImagePortamao is a spot we have been to before, off a cruise ship.  Like Lagos, the beach area is spectacular.  Found a great ice cream place for an afternoon break and Karen was surprised that I was able to fit into the parking spot…see below. (I did have a little help with how close I could get to the cars).  It is really amazing where people park their cars here.  We have certainly seen this before throughout Europe but it still causes me to shake my head.

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Excellent parking skills

ImageImageWe decided to take Ken and Jan to Ilha da Culatra Island for a nice long beach walk between Culatra and Farol on the island.  The ferry ride is a pokey ½ hour trip that chugs along.  A nice traditional Portugese lunch made with salt cod with a couple of cold beer and we are off for our beach walk.  It’s about an hour or so walk between the towns and the weather is excellent so it’s finally time for wearing shorts.  A most enjoyable hike on an almost deserted beach…lovely!

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Typical salt cod in the supermarket (and it smells very fishy)
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So much better when the salt cod is prepared in a typical Portuguese recipe

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To finish the day, we made reservations at our favourite little tapas bar called Tapas e Lendas.  I’ve already blogged about it but it was every bit as good the second time as the first.  They make the best sangria there and the food is excellent and inexpensive.  For example, we had 3 jugs of Sangria (perhaps a bit too much) and several tapas including desert…all for 55 Euro…that’s for all 4 of us!

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Ken and Ed have some fun

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Not to be outdone! Jan and Karen keeping up.

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the owner put on a bit of a show

Saturday is market day in Olhao, so we had to do some shopping!  As usual, the market is like a beehive of activity but I really love the local merchants and the variety of produce and seafood that is available.  What we also discovered is that there is a gypsy market here on Saturday mornings as well…not as big as the Friday gypsy market in Quateira but with lots of stuff.

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Saturday Market

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Saturday’s fish market is always the best

We decided to head off to Albufeira for the afternoon so we head over but we have been avoiding the big toll highway simply because you don’t really see much and it doesn’t save that much travel time.  The weather was very co-operative and we had another bright sunny day.  Along the way are many roadside merchants selling their oranges.  I have seen them as low as 1 Euro for 5 kg.  We have been buying as many as we can and really enjoy our daily fresh squeezed juice.

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Sand Castle competition

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The GPS didn’t really work all that well in Albufeira and we finally just park the car somewhere close.  As it turned out, it was a great place to park and I wish we had remembered to program the GPS to take us back there.

I found a wine store in Albufeira that had a very good selection of vintage port.  I ended up buying a 1994 Dow’s vintage port that Wine Spectator has rated as 97 points.  The price was 69 Euro which is enough but pretty good for a port rated that highly.  I plan to bring about 4 or so bottles of good port home with me…so we won’t be drinking the really good stuff until we get home.

We ended the day with wine and tapas at the wine bar right below us.  That was fun too!

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Ken and Jan at 7Imeio

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Jan and Ed at 7Imeio

Today is a kick back and relax day.  We are spending the next two days in Evora which is about a 3 hour drive from here.  It is supposed to be a beautiful town with lots to see.  From there, the Cooke’s are leaving for Lisbon and home.  So, a nice long walk along the ocean promenade, catch up on my blogging and a little packing…then some fresh tuna steaks from the fish market for supper.

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Thanks for reading the blog.  Please feel free to leave any comments.  Let me know if you have any questions or would like more information, I’ll do my best to get back to you.

Saude!

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Ed’s Portugal Week 3

Bom Dia!  A really great week because we picked up our car on Monday.  After 10 days of not having wheels, I realized that I like the freedom of going where and when I want.  Now, in fairness, we planned it this way so we could really get to know our immediate surroundings and we have…but now I want to explore beyond.  Yes, we could have taken a train or a bus to other centres and yes, we did take the ferry a few times to the islands.  In fact we actually took the train into Faro and wandered around Faro a bit before catching a bus to the airport.  The whole trip was about 4 Euro each, so very cheap and we had wanted to try doing it.  A taxi on the other hand would have been 17 or 18 Euro.

We enjoyed our time in Faro before heading out to the airport and a walk through the old town yielded some nice surprises.  Portugal frankly doesn’t have the same quaint historic town as some of the other parts of Europe.  The Moorish influence was to really build boxy, utilitarian style of housing.  In Faro, there was more of the quaint charm we expect in Europe and we enjoyed seeing some the sights including a church with a chapel made from human bones.  The bones are from over 1200 monks when they reclaimed the cemetery to build the chapel or ossuary.  The inscription over the door reads: “Stop here and think of the fate that will befall you – 1816” a helpful reminder put in place by the Carmelite monks who built the chapel that year on the grounds of the larger church dating to 1719.

It was quite common in Europe to move bones into an ossuary to free up cemetery plots.  Apparently, there is an even grander example of this in Evora, which we will be exploring in the next couple of weeks.

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We had a nice map of Faro showing us the main sites and we finished our tour…just in time for lunch at O Costelo.  I had the cockles and polenta, which was interesting and tasty but Karen had the Tuna Bolognese  which was to die for.  She ranted and raved about this dish all through the meal and she has convinced me that we need to go back there again.

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Pictures around Faro:

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So having a car means one very important thing…golf!  This week, we managed to get in 2 rounds.  The first round was at Benamor Golf Club…80Euros for the 2 of us but we opted to walk the course.  A reasonable price and the course was OK.  We were put with a couple of guys that were club professionals in the UK that were in the Algarve for a seniors professional tournament later that week.  It was a little bit intimidating for us to say the least but they were great guys and we enjoyed ourselves greatly.

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The second round of the week was at a lovely golf course called Quinta da Ria just past Tavira.  Quite a bit more money – 138Euro for the 2 of us but it included a “buggy” or cart, as we know it.  Fabulous course and I played a much better round.  Karen was not so happy as the foursome in front of us wanted us to play through at the 2nd hole and that caused us to have to rush a couple of holes…she doesn’t like that.  Anyway, nice fairways, excellent greens and some beautiful views.  Sorry, I forgot to take many pictures.

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One of the days this week, we decided to take in the gypsy market in Quiteira which was on the way to Albufeira.  We would have driven by it except we wondered what the big crowd was all about so we stopped and asked only to find we had arrived!  The gypsy market is very much like a large flea market but only with new goods.  It was quite large and the prices were very attractive.  Shoes and purses from 5 Euro, scarves, clothing, home goods, etc.  We only ended up buying a small coffee maker as Karen has been struggling trying to make a decent cup of coffee with a French Press.  For 6 Euro, we thought it would be a good investment.

They also had some entertainment there…some guys playing pan flutes, so we sat and had lunch and listened to them.  Of course we ended up buying a cd of theirs too.

ImageImageOn the way out, we bought a big bag of oranges from a guy selling them from his trunk.  Oranges are in season here right now and there are thousands of trees in big and small orchards full of ripe fruit.  As we drove along toward Albufeira, we noticed many little roadside stands sell all kinds of oranges, so we had to stop and buy a second bag of oranges, this time Clementines which are super sweet.  As a result, we are having freshly squeezed orange juice every morning and at 40 or 50 cents a kg, I think we will enjoy this luxury while we can.

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Onward to Albufeira, a seaside town know well for its lively atmosphere.  In the summer, the beaches here are packed and the town is rocking with a plethora of bars and restaurants all geared to tourists, young and old alike.  It is party central for the Algarve.  The day we were there, the town was fairly (almost) deserted as January is not beach time.  We just walked around the town a bit to get a sense of what was there, took a few pictures and decided we would be coming back when the weather was hopefully warmer and we could walk down the beach.

ImageImageFriday was a rainy day, so we decided to visit a little restaurant called Vai e Volta which was rated #1 in Olhao by TripAdvisor.  They are only open for lunch and you get what they are serving that day.  Well, did we have a feast…they grilled a variety of fish so they brought a plate with 4 or 5 different fish, potatoes, salad, bread, olives and a local dish made with boiled bread, spices and olive oil (that wasn’t our favourite).  As it turned out, it was “all you could eat” and they kept bringing more and different fish until we were stuffed.  The house wine was only 4 Euro a litre.  We were the only tourists in the place and the people were very friendly. Total bill – 21 Euro.  What a bargain!  Definitely going back there!

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Speaking of going back, we also went to another great little tapas restaurant called Tapas e Lendas, just a small little place at the end of a quiet street.  We didn’t know what to order so we struck a conversation with a lady beside us who spoke excellent English.  Seems it’s her favourite spot and she pointed out some of the best dishes.  She even gave us a taste of one and we reciprocated by giving her a taste of a dish she hadn’t tried.  They apparently have entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays, so we are hoping to take our friends Jan and Ken Cooke there.

Jan and Ken arrive on Monday and we are excited to get some company and show them around our little hideaway.

Finally, we took one day and drove to Castro Marim to visit an old castle there and look around.  We went for a short hike along a trail before we went to the castle.  The hike was good, through a wooded area and then along the beach.  The highlight of the beach was a guy walking down the beach with a golf club and a ball and he would hit the ball, walk to it, hit the ball, walk to it and so on.  Good way to get some exercise while practicing with his sand wedge 🙂

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The castle in Castro Marim is fairly well preserved and from the wall you can see the Spanish border across the Gaudiana River.  The castle was part of a defense line controlled by the Knights Templar.  Of course you have to use your imagination to get a feel for medieval life in Portugal. The castle was abandoned after the fort on the next hill was built for better protection.  Here are a few pictures.  You might pick out the salt flats used to extract salt, which in its day was as precious as gold.

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The weather has been reasonably good with daytime highs between 15 – 18.  When the sun is out, it is really quite warm but cools off quickly if the wind picks up or if it is cloudy.  We have had a couple of days where it has rained off and on and 1 night where we had quite a storm.  So far, the weather has been as we expected but we are hoping it will warm up as we pass into February 🙂

That’s all for this week and a glass of Vinho Verde is calling me…saude!

Ed’s Portugal – Week 2

As we start to get into a routine here in the Algarve, there are several things we notice:

  • ·         Beer and wine are very reasonably priced, even in the restaurants.  We are paying around 1 E for beer and about 3 Euro for a glass of wine in restaurants.  A bottle of wine in the restaurant is around 10 -15 E.
  • ·         There are lots of dogs here and it seems that people just let them bark at will
  • ·         Drivers are very courteous to pedestrians
  • ·         Food is very inexpensive here, particularly local fruit and vegetable and fish…lots and lots of fish
  • ·         English is not widely spoken on Olhao but international sign language works well 🙂
  • ·         Feel very safe here even walking down small streets and lanes

·         As we opted not to have a car for the first 10 days of our trip, we are looking forward to exploring more of the region.  Olhao is not a tourist town per se and we will be ready to expand our wandering soon.

Some of the things we did this week, aside from day to day living:

·         Visited the Ria Formosa National Park.  A nice hike for us, about 4.5 hours in total from our house.  During our self guided tour we:

o   Saw some of the salt ponds they have for producing salt in the area.

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o   Explored an old tidal mill which used the power of the changing tides to grind wheat for flour

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o   Walked out onto the flats during low tide

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o   Did some rudimentary bird watching (this area attracts a lot of different species of birds and bird watchers)

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o   Visited some Roman ruins of their salt extraction ponds

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o   Enjoyed walking through their “pine forest”

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·         Perhaps the highlight of our day at Ria Formosa was lunch!  The security guard recommended a restaurant right across the street from the park entrance (perhaps a relative’s restaurant J).  We were very pleasantly surprised.  While no English was spoken and despite them wanting us to order more food than we did, we ended up with 4 small fish (3 different kinds), salad, potatoes, bread, olives, fish pate and 2 beers for the unbelievable price of just 6 Euros!  You have got to be kidding!!  We needed the 40 minute walk home after that.

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·         Have you ever heard of Geo Caching?  We hadn’t either until our friend Henry mentioned it to us before we left for Portugal.  It’s like an international scavenger hunt.  There are geocache locations around the world and using your map or gps, you locate these “treasures”.   So we decided to try this as a way to get us out to see some areas we would not normally have gone to.  They are usually tied to a place or item of interest and when you find what you are looking for you sign the log book and log in online that you found the location item.  Interesting concept that seems to have caught on world wide.  We have now done 2 of these locations.

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   We continue to enjoy going to the markets here and trying all sorts of different foods.  I’m getting the hang of cooking on a charcoal style BBQ again.  Amazing how spoiled you get with propane/natural gas.

·         We are trying a variety of different restaurants.  We try to eat at a restaurant for one meal a day whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Sometime an afternoon coffee and pastry or tapas calls out to us as well.

·         We took a ferry ride to the town/island of Armona.   It’s very inexpensive to take the ferries here.  3.60 E return per person.  The town itself is mostly a summer resort town and quite deserted this time of year although we did find a restaurant that served a very decent piri-piri grilled chicken and a tuna salad.  Unfortunately, the Portgugese still need to discover how to make decent French Fries.  The tide was out when we went to the beach and we spotted some fishermen wading out into the water with scoops having nets attached to them.  It seems like they scoop up sand and collect the variety of shells and sea creatures which they sort through on shore keeping only one particular type of clam.  It seems like a great deal of work to collect so few of these clams.  I have seen them in the market since then, but don’t know why these clams warrant so much work.  We had time to enjoy a nice bottle of a Portugese beer called Super Bock.  I quite like the brand, perhaps even better to my previous favourite Sagres.  Very nice sunset this evening on the way back to town.

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Finally went into the main church in town and was not surprised to see it ornately decorated as most European churches are.  We also discovered that another church we wanted to go inside but couldn’t because there seemed to be a funeral there everytime we passed by is in fact, only used for funerals…guess we don’t really want see that one 🙂

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·         We have been really enjoying one of our favourite pastimes…eating.  Karen found a little place that makes a great cappuccino and we also discovered the pizza place a couple of doors down from us, Pizza na Pedra was rated highly in TripAdvisor and we must say the pizza was excellent and the wine list fairly impressive!

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·         On another day, we caught the ferry to an island and visited a place called Farol to see the lighthouse and what the town had to offer…not much!  Again, the town is full of summer homes and very few are occupied.  We’re sure it is a completely different place in the summer.  However, we did go for a nice long walk down a pier to check out some of the local guys fishing, caught some lunch and spent a little time on the deserted beach watching the waves roll in.  This is supposed to be a pretty good spot for surfing and have seen a number of people on previous ferries with their boards, but this day…not a soul.

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Saturday was the big market day again and we did a lot of shopping for some of this week’s provisions, including a very nice Dorado (seabream) fish for supper.  We have been eating quite a bit of fish here and enjoy trying some of the different species.  We have figured out that a couple of the vendors know a little English, so when we say “grill” and shrug our shoulders waving our fingers over all the fish, they are good are making suggestions and cleaning our fish for us.  They seem very fair with their prices when I open my hand with some coins and they help themselves when I can’t figure out how much they want.  I am picking up some very rudimentary Portugese words and by the time our 3 months is over, I hope not to always have this blank expression on my face when someone talks to me:-)

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 ·         Today, there was a big event in town.  The local Olhao football was playing another team from Central Portugal.  This year, the local team moved up from Division 2 to Division 1.  The locals were quite excited, so we walked to the stadium to enjoy our first European football game.  I must say the fans get very into the game and get very vocal at times.  It was a great event and glad we were able to take it in.

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Ed’s Portugal Experience Jan 1 – 5, 2014

January 1 – 5, 2014

So, we have started our adventure…3 months in Portugal’s Algarve Region.  I will try to blog once a week or so for those that are interested.  We are really hoping to get an insider’s feel to the area, enjoy the local foods, drink the local wine and experience the people as much as possible.  At the same time, we want to do the tourist things with sightseeing, golf and some shopping.

We started our adventure flying British Airways from Toronto to London in Business Class.  We used points for the Transatlantic flights.  If you collect RBC Avion points, did you know that twice a year, you can convert your Avion points to British Airways Avios points at a rate of 1:1.5?  This little benefit has meant that we have been able to upgrade to Business Class or First Class for very few extra points…bonus, who doesn’t like to fly up front?  Service and food was excellent, great movies and lay flat beds for a good night’s sleep…zzzzzzz.

We opted to stay in London overnight for a variety of reasons, but primarily so we wouldn’t arrive in Faro late at night and then get to our apartment in a small town called Olhao.  We got a pretty good rate at the Marriott Heathrow Airport hotel and thankfully they had a room ready when we arrived in the morning.  They also had an executive package for an extra 50 pounds but it included internet, access to their executive lounge (treats and drinks) and a buffet breakfast for 2.  That added up to at least 50 pounds and we used all the services, so a good option.  A nap and an afternoon of the pool, hot tub and steam bath and felt great.  So, off to a local pub called the Pheasant Inn for a couple of pints and some fish and jack potato (baked potato) and a nice evening.

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The next morning, we had booked a transfer to Gatwick airport with Express Airport Transfers and were very pleased with the service.  Right on time and a great trip for about $57CAD.  I think I will book them for the return flight since we fly into Gatwick from Faro and out of Heathrow again.  Minimum suggested connecting time is 3.5 hours.

British Airways to Faro was uneventful, the way you want a flight to be, arriving in Faro at about 5PM.  We were met and picked up by a driver recommended by the people we rented the apartment from.  It’s about ½ drive to the apartment which has a great location directly across the street from the ocean/harbour.

The apartment we rented has turned out to be fantastic.  2 bedroom, 2 bathroom with a Julliett balcony over a main street and guess what…it’s right over a wine bar!  How perfect is that!  Plus it has a great rear balcony…not much of a view but the hot tub is fantastic.  Our first night here we went to the wine bar for some great tapas and a jug of Sangria.  Excellent food and drink.  This was followed by the hot tub and then we crashed…some jet lag after all!

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Day 2 – The bakery is about 100 metres from our place so breakfast today was easy and wonderful with pastries, OJ and coffee…I think we will be back here on a regular basis!  Did I mention that we are right across the street from both the fish market and the veg/fruit market.  Since today is Saturday, they also have an outdoor market, so we stocked up on some essentials for today’s meals including sausage and cheese, fresh fruit (the Clementine oranges are in season and very sweet), olives, produce and a variety of other things.  For supper, we chose a fresh, caught that morning, sea bass which they prepared for the grill on the spot.  So we are ready for both lunch and supper today.

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Our Supper

The rest of the day was wondering around the town…found the super market (more groceries and essentials).  Not a great deal to see in town as it is not really a tourist town…most of the action is on the street where we live, which by the way includes a great wine store.  Cheap wine at the supermarket (as low as 1.50Euros) and a good selection of better wines at my new favourite wine store.  Life is good.

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Day 3 – We took the ferry to one of the islands today…Ilha da Culatra…cheap 3.60 Euro return per person.  We wanted to do a hiking trail we discovered along the dunes and beach on the island.  Had a wonderful, albeit expensive lunch there before heading out…about 30 Euro.  My fault, I think I just ordered wrong…enough food to feed 4 really.  The beer was only 1.20Euro, so was OK with it.  The hike was a board walk over the sand dunes to the beach and then 1.5km to some more boardwalk area…except we never found the second boardwalk.  Don’t know if we didn’t go far enough or just missed it, but the weather was great and we enjoyed the walk.  See the pictures below to see how crowded the beach was 🙂.

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Supper is ready now…thanks Karen!  That’s it for the first installment of the blog.