As the Tide Turns

I know you aren’t going to believe us when we tell you that we needed a vacation from our vacation, but it’s true! In order to get a little R & R we had to visit the beach twice. Being on the road for six or seven months is great but the constant moving from one place to the next, and visiting one great city after another, makes a couple of travelers a little grumpy. We definitely needed a time out … And we thought–let’s try the beach resorts in Portugal. Most Canadians think of Mexico or Cuba when it comes to a beach holiday–perhaps they should reconsider and put Portugal on their list. We visited two different resort towns. Figueira da Foz and Lagos (Algarve region). Both were a little on the sleepy side as most tourists stop by in summer–not February and March–but we liked the fact that we almost had these two places to ourselves. Luckily the weather was fantastic. Believe it or not, I actually got a tan. I am the whitest white person I know … and I actually got a tan. What makes this even better is that I didn’t have to lay on the sand long to accomplish it. No sun burn either. After spending 6 weeks in Portugal,  I am trying to convince Wade that this is where we should retire! So in 9 years … look for us in Portugal. You would come and visit, right?

Our first beach town …  was Figueira da Foz. This little beauty was a complete surprise. We didn’t do a lot of homework on this one. We chose it because it was close to Coimbra. (It’s  approximately 40 km from the city.) Most travelers come to Figueira to see its casino–not us though. We didn’t even know it existed. We came for the beach, and we weren’t disappointed.

At the far end of the Figueria beach there are a lot of rocks along the shore. We loved watching the waves clamber over the rocks.

Wade and I practically had the beach to ourselves in Figueira. We did a lot of "wave watching".

While walking along the shoreline we came across these interesting flowers. We love how vibrant the purple is here. Simply gorgeous.

Seeing these images makes me homesick for Figueira! Ironically many tourists come to this resort town because of its casino. We didn't know anything about the casino until our cab driver told us ... and we were leaving the town. We didn't feel bad though. The beach was enough for us. There are great walkways along the beach. We found a wonderful cafe that we visited every day!

We enjoyed gorgeous sunsets every night. Even though we were here in February the weather was incredible! Normally it's +14 - 15 in January and February; when we were here it was +18 - 20 Celsius.

I couldn't resist taking this picture. I was just playing around with the camera and the light. It turned out quite well considering I had to take the picture one handed.

The Portuguese name for the dish is Arroz de Marisco. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty. We should have taken a before and after picture of our table! This particular dish had clams, mussels, squid, shrimp, crab ... Delicious!

This panorama only captures a quarter of the beach (if that) in Figueira. What a wonderful place to wander ...

Our second vacation from our vacation was Lagos. It is a little resort town found in the Algarve region. With it’s wonderful old town and quick access to the beaches it is a popular spot for rest and relaxation. Lagos is unique because of the sea stacks or cliffs that dot the coastline. These wonderful beauties actually keep the wind at bay when you are sunbathing. When the tide is out you can walk around or under the sea stack arches. Be careful though–the tides can sneak up on you!

Another shot of the intriguing sea stacks! The sand is great here. The locals really look after the town beach.

What makes Lagos' beaches unique are these wonderful sea-stacks. They also provide shelter from the wind.

It's hard to believe that this building is where the first African slaves were imported and sold. Today this building is an art gallery. Strange but true. On a lighter note, don't you just love how the locals just pop down to the beach for a little nap in the sun?!

The Lagos Customshouse from another angle. If you examine the background carefully, you can see the beach that runs opposite the town beach. I think you know which beach we preferred.

The last time Wade was here the waves were crashing up and over the sea wall. On this day the water was much tamer. Many locals and visitors take sailing lessons here. We loved watching a parade of little white sails pass us by on Saturday afternoons.

9 years away from retirement, you say … I don’t know if we can wait that long. Not when there are worlds like this just waiting for us …


The Love Child

If Paris and Chicago had a love child, it would be Porto. Parts of the city are as elegant and sophisticated as a Parisian woman, while other parts are as rough and ready as a Chicago longshoreman.  Porto is a city that works hard, and plays harder. The city’s theatre lives in the streets not in the palaces. The bohemians are tolerated of course, but the city’s eye rarely strays from the river which is its “meat and potatoes”. Yet at day’s end, there is always time for a song and a glass of port.

Lisbon may have more tourists, but if you want to experience the real Portugal you must visit Porto. Bring an open mind and you’ll see beyond the city’s stormy, brawling exterior to its inner majesty.

P.S. If you do make it to Porto eat a hearty Francesinha (a warm sandwich that originated in Porto); and when the meal is done, toast the city with a glass of port. Remember to leave a little room for some pastel de nata too!

To us, this figure and ones like it capture the enduring spirit of Porto's citizens. (Several statues seemed to be plagued by an overwhelming burden, yet they bear the weight and refuse to surrender.)

Unlike it's pretty sister, Lisbon, Porto rolls up its sleeves and works! This commercial street is only quiet on Sundays, during the rest of the week it is buzzing with energy.


In the early 1900s the city of Porto purchased streetcar kits from Philadelphia. By 1929 the city needed more cars so they built their version of the original Brill streetcar. These cars are still in operation today. I love streetcars! They are perfect for narrow and steep streets -- not that Wade wanted to ride in one! "You cannot build buns of steel if you take the tram!" Quote, unquote. =

The Porto Riverfront is so unique that it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area's colourful buildings and medieval streets create a wonderful ambiance. Some travelers comment on her fading beauty suggesting that she is past her prime, but to us she is the "Cher" of cities.

Porto's Dom Luis I is an important "bridge" that brings Porto (riverfront) and Gaia (the left bank) together. This connector allows access to the Port Lodges like Sandeman, Ramos Pintos, and Taylor.

These boats (barcos rabelos) used to sail up and down the Douro River delivering port wine throughout the city. Port is a fortified wine that is sweet and is often served as a dessert wine. It's usually red but there are white varieties as well. Some people suggest Port and Brandy are the same thing, but the Portuguese would disagree. And rightly so!

The Church of Saint Francis is found in the heart of the old city. It offers great views of the city's rooftops. Also, it is home to Porto's catacombs, which you can visit. Some of the crypts are numbered and still have Oporto family names printed on them.

The lion (which represents the British and the Portuguese) is dominating the eagle (which represents Napoleon and his French troops). Even today the Portuguese and the British have close ties. Many British citizens holiday or live in Portugal.

The city isn't just known for its port wine. It is also known for its distinctive blue and white tiles known as azulejos. The church's façade is a fine example of patterned azulejos tiles. (The tiles may utilize other colours such as green, red and yellow but the blue and white tiles adorn most exteriors.)

If you visit Porto, the São Bento Station (Train) is a must see. The beautiful azulejos / tile murals are amazing. This photo captures daily life as it once was in Portugal.

This is another azulejos mural from the São Bento Station. This one highlights an historic battle. Throughout the city you can find many of these wonderful murals.

Forget Starbucks! This gorgeous art nouveau café should be your first stop in Porto. When it opened in 1921 it was meant for society's most elite members but few visited it. After the name was changed from Café Elite to Café Majestic it became popular with intellectuals, bohemians and the wealthy. Many heated debates were held here while her visitors drank tea or ate ice cream. Today the debates continue over coffee / tea and pastries.

"I am ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille." (No matter where we were, gulls could be found close by. Usually they'd keep a safe distance though, but this fellow liked the attention.)

Spring was definitely in the air. These unusual flowers caught our attention because the tree did not have any leaves whatsoever. (P.S. These are not almond trees; does anyone recognize the species?)

A Francesinha is a hearty sandwich (with egg, cheese and meat) that originated in Porto. It is served warm. It also has a distinctive sauce (which can be a little spicy) that is drizzled over the sandwich. Yum.

Kickin’ it Old School

What is LaserLeap technology you ask?

Well … it is a project that young researchers are working on right now. It’s goal is to deliver medicine without using a syringe. This cutting edge project is well underway at the University of Coimbra (Portugal).

Coimbra is famous for one thing–more or less– and that is the Universidade de Coimbra. The locals simply refer to it as Velha Universidade or the Old University. It is the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese speaking world. It was established in the late 13 century, thereby making it one of the oldest universities in Europe as well. The campus is located on the highest point of the upper town, where the royal palace once stood. The university is the citizens’ pride and joy, and from its vantage point it stands as a perennial guardian for the entire city.

Coimbra has wonderful river views. The most popular one is of the river and University Hill (in the background). The highest point on the hill is where the university is situated. We walked along the river every day. The weather was incredible. +18 in February!

At the top of the picture is the Tower da Cabra; it is found on the university grounds. After we climbed to the top of University Hill and visited the campus, we had a lovely meal at the Italia Restaurant (bottom right hand corner). The restaurant has great river views too.

Crowning the top of the city is the university and its square. The original campus, along with the Tower da Cabra , is one of the most photographed places in Coimbra. The students refer to the tower as The Goat. Could it have this odd nickname because its bells constantly "remind" students that classes are about to start?

This panorama captures the university's original campus including the bell tower and what remains of the former royal palace. To the left, you will find the entrance to the Joanina Library. The library is incredibly ornate. Of course we couldn't take pictures. The guard was ever present! Ironically the library also houses the university's old jail. If students did something illegal they would be kept there until their trial or until they sobered up!

This is one of the city views from the university balcony (found at the back of the former royal palace). We love this picture because someone painted a message on the side of one the buildings below. Perhaps it was painted by a disgruntled student or two?

Of course there is more to see than the university itself. If you have the time, you should wander the city’s streets too. You never know what you will see … wear comfortable shoes though … the city streets are steep. As Wade says, you will earn “buns of steel” after roaming Coimbra’s streets for a couple of days . Of course Einstein loved wandering the streets because he rode in my pocket most of the way.

This is one of Coimbra's main squares. Largo da Portagem literally means "place of the gateway" and many assume it means that is the gateway to the city. If you walk by the statue and up the slight incline you will discover Coimbra's commercial or shopping street. In the past the lower city was the commercial district too.

It's fun to wander the city. So "get lost" -- let the city carry you away.

The Tricana of Coimbra literally means "wife of Coimbra". She is an important symbol in the city. In the past women like her would bring water or other goods, like eggs or bread, in her earthen ware jar from the lower city to the upper city. She provided an essential service to its citizens. The statue is placed in a spot where a typical wife of the city could rest before continuing her journey up the steep streets (under the Almedina Arc and up).

University students parade through the streets in celebration of Mardi Gras. We aren't sure what the animal skull represents! Many school groups, from kindergarten to university, dressed up. We saw turtles, lady bugs, teddy bears, crows, butterflies and ... the list goes on ...

Like Spain, Portugal has some very interesting graffiti. We took this picture while waiting for the train to take us to Figueira da Foz. There is more to it--this mural covered a very long wall--but I like Mr. Fox! Don't you?