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Much of my blog (not really a blog) will relate to my love of travel with articles and pics. It will be an ongoing project.


I had never considered vacationing in Portugal but a co-worker who had just returned from there was so enthralled with the Algarve that I immediately booked a flight and hotel package that included a rental car. 
After an overnight flight we arrived in Lisbon at 8:30 in the morning.  Following some confusion in regards to the rental car we hopped on a shuttle bus that took us to the rental agency.  We quickly found our way out of Lisbon and crossed a marshy plain over the Vasco De Gama bridge that was named for the Portugese explorer.  It was a futuristic looking bridge 17 kms long that must have taken many years to complete.  The terrain went from flat to rolling hills to small mountains (3,000 metres) in The Algarve in the south of the country.  Disappointingly the hotel Vau in Portimao was not in close proximity to the water but from our balcony we could see the ocean sparkling in the sunshine.  After the overnight flight with no sleep, a three hour drive and settling in our room, we slept deliciously for 12 hours.

After breakfast we drove a few kms west to Alvor for a short walking tour.  Alvor is a picturesque village that faces a natural lagoon, long, sandy beaches and craggy cliffs.
  Its quaint, narrow streets have bars, restaurants and there is limited development in this ancient port.  From there we continued west to Lagos where we strolled along a promenade that was lined with palm trees.  The palms swayed in the wind coming off the ocean and dark clouds, threatening rain blew in.  We watched a mini cyclone of water sweep inland and disappear.  Suddenly big raindrops fell and we ran to a nearby coffee shop for shelter.  While sipping our java an old lady came over jabbering in Portugese and we tried to convey to her that we were unfamiliar with her language.  She continued talking to us, all the while drying my hair with napkins.  I felt some frustration in not being able to converse with this dear old woman.  In the evening after hours of walking we had a dinner of sardines that is common fare in this country, accompanied by a large carafe of red wine.

The Portugese people drink red wine like it is water and it is very inexpensive.  My co-worker friend had been to Portugal a few weeks before and asked me to deliver a bottle of Niagara Ice Wine to the owner of a hotel she had frequented.  She had promised to send him a bottle but since I was going to Portugal would I deliver it to him?  After a leisurely drive north through the hills we arrived at the hotel/restaurant near Monchique to present a very pleased and gracious Mr. Fernandez with the ice wine.  His restaurant seemed to hang precariously over a cliff with a stunning view of the valley below, and through the glass walls on the horizon the sun glistened on the Atlantic ocean.  We had a leisurely lunch overlooking the vista outside our window. 

An ancient Moorish castle sits atop the hill in the enchanting town of Silves and narrow cobblestone streets wind up the hill.  Colourful potteries were displayed outside the many shops.  I remember marvelling that the cobblestones had all been laid by hand many decades before.  We were not in the mood to take a tour of the cork factory but had noticed many cork trees as well as eucalyptus trees on our drive back from Monchique.  With a stop at the Modelo for some groceries we continued to Portimao and cooked a meal (I only did this one time) in our hotel kitchenette.  I had some packing to do for a three day guided bus tour to Spain, Gibraltor and Morocco that we had booked in the lobby of our hotel.

Upon our return to Portugal our next day trip was the gypsy flea market in Loule where I loitered at a very colourful display of hand made pottery.  As gypsies are quite aggressive I held myself back from the table and admired from afar.  I observed that these ladies drive a hard bargain so I wandered on.  I still regret to this day not purchasing some of the blue and yellow stoneware. 

 A little girl with an accordian had a little dog wearing a cap (for tips) beside her.  The dog never moved and the little girl didn't know how to play the accordian.  It was just an attention getter.  The Atlantic Ocean has hammered the southwest corner of Europe for eons creating amazing rock formations, grottos, and wind caves; a photographer's dream.  It is here that Henry the Navigator built his fortress that clings to the edge of the cliffs.  We perched near the edge of the western cliff to enjoy a picnic lunch and looked on incredulously at men casting their fishing lines from halfway down the precipice while angry waves pummelled the rocks below.

  Driving north along the west coast we stopped whenever we spotted a tour bus because we knew there must be an amazing view to behold.  The bus stopped at the most westerly point of Europe, called Cabo Da Roco.  As we headed toward Sintra the road we took had hairpin turns and most of the time we drove through fog. 
We stopped for coffee in the quaint town of Sintra and drove out of there along a narrow, rough road.  It was pretty though with lush ferns growing in front of ancient stone walls that had been constructed by the Moors.  Between fog patches we saw some scenic vistas as we were quite high in elevation.  As we were searching for Parque da Pena we ended up driving through a national forest.  It was eerie driving though the mist and cork trees.  Enormous boulders surrounded us and it looked as if they had been tossed there by a giant, some boulders on top of others.  We hoped that none of them would roll in front of our car.  We stopped at Boca de Inferno (mouth of hell) where the sea rushes into clefts and caves, making an ominous booming sound and sending up spectacular spews of spray.  It was awesome! 
We had booked a room in the old 19th century fishing village of Cascais that is a suburb of Lisbon.  It is located on a sheltered bay and is now a cosmopolitan community with outdoor cafes, restaurants and shops.  Our hotel had a rooftop patio overlooking the bay where we enjoyed a cold brew.  We walked a kilometer or so to check out the large casino that I wanted to compare to the one I was employed in at the time back in Canada.  It is rumoured by historians that it was actually Cascais fishermen who discovered the New World in 1492, not Chris Columbus.

From Cascais we drove along the waterfront to return to the Lisbon airport.  The road is very close to the water and as it was a very windy day waves actually splashed over our windshield causing us to laugh.


We rode motorcycles with Gary and Laurie to the Mardi Gras in Leesburg under a cloudless sky.  After 4 gloomy days of weather our spirts soared.  At the Town Square a Cajun band from Louisiana played tunes very reminiscent of the “down home”music of Nova Scotia.  That is not surprising since French Acadians migrated to Louisiana many years ago.  When you hear this music it is quite impossible to sit still.  I have never before seen Fred dance at 1:00 in the afternoon while completely sober.  Two costumed couples that accompanied the band mingled with the crowd inviting us to dance and offering two-step lessons as well.  Lauri and I also attempted to do a form of line dancing.

When the band asked for a volunteer to come on stage I happily rose to the occasion and played the scrub board.  Not everyone can say they entertained a crowd at Mardi Gras.  Main street was closed to traffic and several bands at either end of the street entertained the audience of varying ages.  Huskers worked the crowd for tips and early evening there was a wonderful parade of floats with the focus on throwing beads to the throng of people.  People in the crowd reminded me of ladies at a half-price sale.  Did I mention that I have fifteen strings of beads? 

One of my sons commented in an e-mail that he didn't want to know what I had done to get those beads.  I reminded him that this was a Snowbird state where the rules are different. 

With the light of a half moon reflected on Fred’s helmet we braved the chilly night back to Wildwood.


We spent Christmas Eve at the airport in Toronto where our son’s flight from LA was due to arrive at 11:00 p.m.  Hardly the Christmas Eve depicted by Currier and Ives.  No jingling sleigh rides on snow-covered trails or chestnuts roasting on an open fire for us.  Instead it was standing elbow to elbow among a throng of other people impatiently waiting for their loved ones to arrive for Christmas.  While we had already spent a month in Florida, our son had spent the month in Hollywood at the recording studio to work on his band’s second album.  We had driven back to spend Christmas with our family and as we traditionally spend Christmas Eve with our only unattached son, we had offered to pick him up.  We planned on having a festive Christmas Eve; maybe have some steak and lobster tails.  That’s when we thought he was arriving at 6:00 p.m.  Due to snowstorms the day before, many flights were delayed and some cancelled.

In the arrivals lounge I exchanged pleasantries with the lady beside me and she told me about her daughter who had married an American and now lived in Baltimore and how excited she was to see her.  I, in turn explained about my son being a musician and the reason for his trip to LA.  “What is the name of the band?” she asked eagerly.  I explained she might not have heard about them yet but that they were on their way to becoming well known.  We continued chatting when suddenly she asked, “is he tall?”  I answered her and continued talking but then abruptly she asked, “does he have long hair?”  I answered “no, that actually it is very short but that he may be wearing a togue as so many young men do”.  She fell silent and so did I as we waited impatiently for our loved ones to emerge through the double doors of Canada Customs.  “Maybe he is delayed because they are searching him for drugs”, she offered with a chuckle.  “Oh, my son doesn’t do drugs” I stated.  Again we fell silent and then, “does he have tattoos?” she inquired to which I replied in the affirmative, that they are strategically placed so they can be covered by his T-shirt.  I could also feel this women’s curiosity about our musician son as she scanned the faces of the various male passengers.

By the nature of her questions I surmise she had a stereotypical impression of my son because he composes, plays guitar and is the frontman for a punk band.  I wonder what her thoughts were when a clean-cut, boy-next-door young man, sporting a baseball cap, approached us with a cheerful grin.  I hope she wasn’t disappointed.

An Aunt Remembered

I rap on the door marked twenty-eight and my heart beats faster in anticipation.  I have travelled thousands of miles for this moment.  The door opens and I am in the loving embrace of my favourite aunt, the one who in my formative years showered me with so much love and affection.  I savour the moment; it has been such a long time since I have seen my “Tante Marie” and so much has happened on my side of the Atlantic.  We have so much to talk about, many questions to ask each other, thoughts to share but first she must attend to the ritual of coffee time.

In typical European fashion, strongly brewed coffee is poured into demitasse cups that are edged with gold trim. My aunt slowly adds scalding hot milk into each cup.  The coffee is accompanied with delectable pastries, laden with whipped cream.  The aroma of the freshly brewed coffee evokes memories of my childhood when, as a young Dutch girl I helped my mother serve a variety of tempting pastries to our visiting relatives or friends. 

My aunt lowers herself gingerly into her armchair.  Her knees are arthritic now and getting in and out of her chair is quite a painful process.  She settles in and immediately questions tumble from her lips, trying to catch up on so many lost years.  I tell her about my sons, their activities, awards, and ambitions.  She listens intently, head cocked, dark eyes shining. Finally when she speaks, it is only of illness and dying.  She tells me of my uncle’s final days and how she had a hospital bed placed in the living room so that she could care for him herself.  Her voice quavers and I can see that she misses him deeply.  I reach over and gently stroke her arm.  She talks at great length about my parents who are in spirit now and she expresses her sorrow at not being there with my mother during her illness.

She informs me that she has placed her name on a waiting list at a local nursing home in the event that her health takes a turn for the worst.  She smiles sadly and in my mind’s eye I see her as she was when I was a child; a vibrant woman in her mid forties.  Now I am almost that age and I still have my dreams, goals and expectations.  She has only the apprehension of living too long and facing her final days in a nursing home with only strangers to care for her. 

She brings out a small box that is crammed with old photographs that my parents sent to my grandparents over the years.  We spend hours reminiscing and she tells me stories about my three older brothers and how full of mischief they could be.  The stories she relates about my antics as a tot are amusing but it’s as if she is talking about someone else, as I have no recollection of them.  Surely, I wasn’t the bratty child that her stories allude to? 

The hours pass too quickly and I must go.  There are more relatives I must visit but I reassure my aunt that she will see me again before I return to Canada.  As the taxi driver negotiates the narrow road I say very little.  I need this quiet time to reflect upon this visit with my beloved aunt.  It has been a very moving day.