Uncovering Italica, Spain

Travelling never stops reminding of us of how little we know.  Last December we visited the Archaeologcal Museum of Seville, one of the pavillions created for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. As we explored the fascinating museum, we quickly noted that most of the impressive Roman exhibits were from Italica, which we soon learned was just northeast of Sevilla. Note to selves – we must visit!

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Venus of Italica at the Archaeological Museum of Seville

Fast forward to June 2018, Erik was spending time with us and we hit the road for Andalucia – specifically Italica and Cordoba. Located in (and under) the modern town of Santiponce just northwest of Sevilla, this was an easy 2.5 hour drive from Portimão.

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Centre of the ampitheatre

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View from site towards Santiponce and Sevilla

Italica was an elaborate Roman city founded in 206 BC by Roman General Publius Cornelius Scipio. Smaller than it’s neighbour Hispalis (Seville), it’s main purpose was to settle war veterans from the Second Punic Wars against Hannibal and the Carthaginians. The city was built on the shores of the Guadalquivir River with formal streets surrounding a central public buildings and a forum.

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Italica thrived for many years, particularly under the patronage of Hadrian, as it was his birthplace. He expanded the city northward and erected several new temples and buildings. However by as early as the third Century its prominence began to dwindle due both to the shifting of the riverbed and the continued prosperity of nearby Hispalis.

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Throughout the Middle Ages and well into modern times the city remained a romantic site but was subject to looting, indiscrimate excavation and a quarry for building materials. In fact in 1740 the City of Seville ordered demolition of the ampitheatre walls to support building of a dam on the Gualdalquivir River. It wasn’t until 1810 that Italica recieved any protection, as well as an annual budget for excavation. In 1912 it was declared a National Monument but the final protection laws were not put in place until 2001.

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An active archaeological site

As the modern city of Santiponce was not built over the entire site, much of the original city remains intact and visble. The ampitheatre was the 3rd largest in the Roman Empire at the time and seated 25,000 people which is about half of the Collosseum in Rome. We were actually overwhelmed by the feeling of walking into the centre of the ampitheatre and its surrounding vaults and walkways. There are many parts that remain intact and you definitely get a sense of the specatcles that took place here.

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In addition to the ampitheatre several streets in the elite area of urbs nova or new town have been extensively uncovered and some very impressive mosaics from the original homes are visible. Wandering along the formal streets amongst columns, cedar trees and remains of the original homes and mosaics provides a fascinating experience and a unique insight into Roman history.

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The “House of the Birds” mosaic

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Getting to Italica is easy, as the signage on the highways is excellent and coming from Portugal you can avoid the busier thoroughfares as you head north in the outskirts of Sevilla. There are few overnight choices in Santiponce itself but most visitors come from Seville on a day trip or using public transportation.

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We stayed at the Hotel Anfiteatro Romano which is reasonably priced and has a unique interior. The rooms were small but clean and perfectly adequate for a night. There are several restaurants within a short walk and we had an excellent meal at the attached Ventorrillo Canario.

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Entrance to the Site

The entrance to the site is directly across the street from the hotel and there is ample street parking in the area. Entrance fees are very reasonable and on the day we visited in late June there couldn’t have been more than 50 people in the whole site which is quite expansive. There are no facilities within the site other than washrooms and vending machines near the entrance. The grounds surrouding the ampitheatre contain some fascinating pieces and throughout the entire site you will find scattered remains of columns, poticos and statues. Also, keep in mind that the site is closed on Mondays.

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A morning or an afternoon of about 2-3 hours should be sufficient to see the entire site, although this depends on the level of interest you have in this type of attraction. For us it was a unique, enriching and very memorable visit.

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles!

We have been doing a lot of traveling the past two months and although we didn’t have the problems encountered by Steve Martin and the gang from that classic movie, we are glad of some down time now. In April we headed to Porto by train, then to Canada in May, and in June we were off to Spain and Central Portugal on road trips. This post is a summary of our recent travels, but we have plenty of material from our road trips to share in separate upcoming posts.

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Catching the early train to Lisbon in Portimão

Where to start? It has been quite a while since our last post so there has been a lot of water under the bridge – especially in April. We have all of our paperwork completed and no Portuguese language classes until September so things haven’t seemed quite so hectic. Our futebol (soccer) team – Portimonense qualified for the Premeira Liga next season. March and April were wetter and cooler than Portugal has experienced in a long time. The weather has now turned and is more of what is expected for this time of year so our activities are now shifting to a slower pace and exploring close to home.

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The goldfinches loved the abundant seeds of spring

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A wonderful mixed flock of sheep and goats

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Returning from a hike in the Serra de Monchique

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An open house at Quinta dos Vales Wine Estate in Estombar

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Quinta dos Vales Wine Estate blends great wines with art

In late April we took our first trip to Porto (by train) with friends from Nova Scotia and we loved it (a separate post to follow). Coincidentally we were in Porto at the same time as our friends Kemkem and Federico from Nextbiteoflife. We had a wonderful evening with them over a great meal and a few glasses of wine.

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The start of a great meal at a small restaurant in Porto. A Nigerian, an Italian, a Costa Rican, a Nova Scotian and two Newfoundlanders meet in a tavern in Porto – there has to be a punch line!

After another relaxing train ride across Portugal back to Portimão, we spent a week showing them some of our favorite areas and restaurants. While it wasn’t hot and sunny the cooler weather was very comfortable for walking and sightseeing.

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We never tired of the beautiful spring blooms, especially near the coast

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Under the sardine baskets at the Museu de Portimão

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Magnificent coastline at Praia da Marinha

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The setting and the food at Jony’s Restaurante in Armação de Pêra were both perfect

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Arrival of the French frigate Hermione in Portimão

No sooner had our friends left and it was time for us to travel back to Canada (by plane) for Erik’s graduation from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. At our age we know how quickly time passes, but 4 years sure flew by as it seemed like only yesterday we said goodbye to him on the steps of one of the dorms. The convocation ceremonies were uplifting and we felt so proud as we watched him and his friends accept their degrees and awards.

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Mount Allison’s Convocation Hall in Sackville, New Brunswick

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The big moment!

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Very happy grads – Erik with Anna Jamieson

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Regular readers of our blog may recognize these two great guys from our travels – Keeghan (Costa Rica) and Xave (Lisbon).

Of course some time with families and friends was in order and we did our usual driving (and now the automobile) from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, through the Annapolis Valley with stops in Halifax. Good food and even some good weather along with lots of smiles ensured that our week passed very quickly.

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Steamed Nova Scotian lobsters and white wine – how could you not smile? Anne with Tim’s Mom and sister.

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Watch for this site in the upcoming movie “The Lighthouse” – filmed in Yarmouth, NS.

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No this isn’t a truck dealership. Lower West Pubnico is one of the most lucrative landing sites for lobster in Atlantic Canada. Also the site of the excellent Dennis Point Cafe.

In what has been a great opportunity, Erik came back to Portugal with us to spend two months before he embarks on the next stage of his life. After recovering from a (very) long twenty seven hours of flights, airports, lounges and lines we decided to do a couple of road trips before the weather got too hot, the crowds too big and summer prices came into effect.

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A long layover at Gatwick Airport gave us the opportunity to have a great pub lunch in nearby Crawley.

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Time for a couple last hikes before the heat of summer. We wanted to see how much water was in Barragem da Bravura and were pleased to see it nearly full.

Our first was back to Andalucia, by road this time which gave us the opportunity to see much more of this part of Spain. We will share some of the highlights from Santiponce (Italica) and Cordoba in a future post.

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Enjoying the fields and hills between Sevilla and Cordoba, Clio’s first journey to Spain.

We have been wanting to visit much more of Portugal so for our next trip we headed north to Coimbra, Porto, Aveiro and Nazaré. Each of these areas impressed us in a different way, and reminded us of the diversity of Portugal while retaining the friendliness, history and unique aspects of this little corner of Europe.

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The site of the colossal winter waves of Nazaré

Now we are taking the time to catch our breath and will settle into summer here in Portimão and enjoy the many activities taking place as well as some time at the beach and by the pool. Retirement is just so tough! Also just in time for the World Cup which promises to be an exciting few weeks.

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Futebol Park Alameda, the site of the World Cup in Portimão

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Hiking the Algarve – Percurso do Lagoão

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São Marcos da Serra

Aptly named the Percurso do Lagoão trail, (roughly translated “the course of the lagoon”) follows the floodplain of the Ribeira da Odelouca near the small hill town of São Marcos da Serra. Located in the northern portion of the Algarve this trail will introduce you to a rural side of living as well as a mix of natural habitats.

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Shepherds are a common sight in many rural areas

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Ruins and old walls abound

Just off of the IC1, the start of the trail is easy to locate near the futebol pitch and fire station and there is ample parking. We walked the trail in early April and encountered no other hikers along the entire 10 km distance.

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A common sight throughout the Algarve

You begin following the small river and will encounter a mixture of riparian habitats as well as mixed plantings on the hillside. Throughout the entire area were cork oaks which are actively harvested. The dirt road is open and affords great views across the river valley and to the hills beyond. We heard several birds in this area but they were mostly hidden in the thick vegetation along the banks of the river.

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What species was that?

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A cork oak that has been stripped

We reached a crossing point in the river which the guide mentioned may be impassable during periods of heavy rain. The water level was just over the concrete roadway across the river so we had no problem and really enjoyed this area and delighted in the sound of water running and the play of the sunlight on the surface.

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March brought 4x the usual rainfall in Portugal

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Small multipurpose farms are common in this area

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A small reservoir

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Spring is wonderful with wild flowers everywhere

There are many modest homes and farms on this walk and we exchanged friendly greetings with the few people we encountered. These were not prosperous farms by any extent and it seemed from the mixture of activities that people made a living from a  variety of sources. Mixed livestock, geese, small plantings and orchards, and cork oak harvest would contribute to income of the families living here. Not surprisingly we saw no younger people and it is likely that the way of life has not changed much in the past 50 years or more.

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A pastoral scene in the hills

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Cork drying on the hillsides

As we have seen more and more of rural Algarve by foot we are really beginning to appreciate the different perspective this mode of travel provides. You absorb so much more of the natural surroundings as well as the way of life that is slowly disappearing. It also provides plenty of time for introspection.

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Pines are common throughout the Algarve

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No shepherd with this flock

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I wonder what is around the next corner?

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There were several small olive groves along this section

Leaving the hills behind the trail begins to wind its way back towards São Marco da Serra through more farmland and past small vineyards. In this open area we saw several species of birds feeding on insects and seeds. As always the people we encountered had time for a friendly wave and greeting.

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The vines were just starting to show their leaves

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A stretch along the highway looking back towards the hills we walked through

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Entering São Marcos da Serra

This is a circular trail which brings you through the town and back across the river. These small towns feel quite different than the coastal towns. There is relatively no English spoken, no billboards, no tourist cafes just local pastelarias, shops and small squares with mostly older residents.

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No fanfare as you enter town

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Enjoying the warmth of the April sun

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Nearing the end of the trail you recross the river

This is a great trail to explore the rural side of the Algarve and apart from the occasional traffic noise from the nearby IC1 it is easy to peel away the years and enjoy the laid back understated beauty and ambiance of the Algarve hills.

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Hiking the Algarve – Pedra do Galo

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Barão de São Jão

We found this trail listed under two different names – Pedra do Galo and Discovering the Forest (Lilac Trail). Located in the hills behind the charming village of Barão de São Jão, finding the parking lot can be a lot of fun as well. At the western end of the village you follow the signs for the Centro Cultural and wind your way through a series of very narrow two way streets. There are a series of 4 mirrors to allow you to see if any vehicles are coming the other way as you cannot squeeze two cars through the narrow lanes.

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The trail is located within a National Forest (Mata Nacional) from which timber for shipbuilding was supplied during the Age of Discovery. There is also a well known local picnic site Parque de Merenda. Apparently there is also a Paleolithic menhir (standing stone) in the area called Pedra do Galo but we were never able to find it.

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You will find a large parking lot overlooking the village across from the Centro Cultural and there is a map of the trail at the starting point. Some lovely engravings sit aside the road and give you a little hint of what you can expect.

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The 1st km is along a well used dirt road to the parking lot at a picnic area. The road winds through many eucalyptus trees and we spotted several bird species along this section. It was a bit busy and dusty so you could easily drive to the park, leave your car there and do a 4 km walk through the wooded portion of the path.

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The work of German stencil artist Tona on the abandoned guard house.

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Parque de Merenda picnic site

The next stage of the trail follows a small dirt road on the hillsides with a small brook and eucalyptus trees lining it. In the background on this day we could hear the fairly loud whooshing of the several windmills that are in the immediate vicinity which at times sounded like an airplane landing. There were many older growth trees in this area as well.

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After about 1 km you emerge into an area of newer plantings of pine with a few olive trees, strawberry trees and many small bushes with which we were unfamiliar. The open areas were perfect for the many bright and varied wild flowers.

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Emerging onto a dirt road at the highest point of elevation, we were dwarfed by the huge windmills. It was in this area of heavy pine plantings and windmills that we saw the greatest diversity of birds including our first crested tit and rock bunting. The roads lead gradually downhill until you pass close to the picnic area and rejoin the original uphill dirt road.

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The total distance for this hike was 7.5 km and including a short picnic lunch we spent about 3 hours on this diverse and pleasant trail.

 

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Hiking the Algarve – A Rocha Delicada

The Viaalgarviana is a long distance trail that runs 300 km across the Algarve from Alcoutim on the Guadiana River at the Spanish border to Cabo de São Vincente in the west. One the main goals of the system is to introduce people to the interior of the Algarve, away from the beaches and resort towns and to show the natural, cultural and historic charms of another side of the Algarve. In addition to the long distance path an additional group of 12 Rotas Pequenas (small routes) have been established in several parts of the Algarve. A Rocha Delicada is one of these trails.

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Train crossing at the starting point of the trail

Between Lagos and Portimao, and beginning at the Estação (train station) Mexilhoeira Grande the trail runs along several dirt roads passing small rural homes, farms and some larger villas. A multitude of spring flowers were in bloom and the late March sun was brilliant on the day we walked this trail. All around the fields and farms swallows and martins were swooping everywhere we looked. Warblers, blackbirds, cisticolas, crested larks, magpies, goldfinch and greenfinch added their songs to the pleasant soundtrack of the morning.

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As with so much of rural Portugal, the properties range from rustic ruins to modest dwellings to expansive (and expensive) villas all existing side by side. It makes for interesting contrasts set against the backdrop of the fields, cacti, orchards and vineyards which are characteristic of this area.

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Gradually the road leaves the houses behind and winds along the extensive wetlands of the Rio Alvor. In days past productive salt pans were developed in many of the estuaries, creating a series of ponds, streams and ditches. In addition to the natural salt marsh habitats this is a very productive area for both migrating and resident shore birds and many other species.

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Flamingos at rest

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Eurasian Linnet

The trail branches off the dirt road and follows the salt marsh out to the tidal edge of the estuary. This is an even and easy walk along the tops of small dykes that have been built to control the ingress of water to this part of the wetland. It also provides excellent viewing and photography opportunities across the marshes. On the day we were there we spotted flamingos, spoonbills, egrets, dunlin, plovers, stilts and sandpipers all within a short distance of the path.

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Returning to the road the trail passes a small sandy beach that looked very inviting in the relatively hot sun. In fact there was a family enjoying the day while the children frolicked at the water’s edge. Stopping for a small picnic lunch this was also the area where we encountered our first mosquitoes of the spring.

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The last leg of the trail is quite different as the road leads uphill through expansive fields providing pastoral backdrops for the vibrant flowers, enigmatic ruins and occasional hawks and egrets. Long time readers of our blog will know that we really enjoy walking these small country roads and discovering the amazing little scenes that open up around each corner or from the crest of each hill.

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As we neared the end of the trail, we both commented how hot this particular trail would be in the middle of the summer as there is little shade anywhere along the way. The back of our necks were sunburned as it was. So best to walk in the early morning or on cloudy days. That is case however for most hiking here in the Algarve and the guide books will warn you to avoid them in the summer altogether.

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Protecting their territory

At 6 km this trail was very pleasant and traversed a range of scenery and habitats. Probably the biggest drawback is that the road did seem that it could be busy (and dusty) at times. Also for anyone wanting to just do some birding, you can easily drive to the section of the trail that winds around the saltmarsh. This would make a very nice 2 km walk on its own and we saw several people doing just that. On the remainder of the trail we only saw one other group of hikers and one group of cyclists.

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We chuckled at the shepherd who trundled along with a flock of tourists

You can follow this link to a great online brochure entitled Walking Trails in the Algarve, published by Tourismo de Portugal. It lists this, as well as dozens of other trails throughout the region. Another good resource is Algarve Hiking Trails by Walk Algarve. We are now working our way through the lists and will publish a little summary of them as we go.

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Birding in the Algarve – Ria de Alvor

From the picturesque town of Alvor in the Western Algarve a boardwalk winds its way through salt marshes, dunes, mud flats and salt pans to the mouth of the Ria de Alvor. In addition to the simple natural beauty of this area, the extensive marshes and tidal estuary make it an excellent birding site. As both a Special Area of Conservation (Natura 2000) and a Ramsar site it is well worth a casual walk or dedicated birding stop in the area.

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The view from the starting point of the boardwalk

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Via Algarviana trail marker

The variety of productive habitats attract a wide variety of species throughout the year as well as during the spring and fall migration periods. Wading birds feed along the edges of the marsh, terns dive for the plentiful fish and many small songbirds are attracted to the low bushes and plants of the marsh and dune systems.

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Eurasian spoonbills feeding

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Zitting Cisticolas are common along the boardwalk

There are many small pools and creeks that can be viewed from the boardwalk so with careful observation you can spot several species at close range as well as the larger birds farther out in the river and on the flats. The boardwalk is in great condition and this part of the walk is very accessible to anyone. Every time we have visited there have been plenty of people enjoying the walk.

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Spring blooms

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The boardwalk is well maintained

At the end of the boardwalk, which runs for about 2 km, a well maintained path runs along the shoreline which gives great views across the estuary. Numerous sandbars provide resting and feeding areas for terns, gulls, cormorants, herons, egrets and ducks.

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Extensive sandbanks emerge at low tide

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Dunlin

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Discarded pieces of marble repurposed

The final piece of the trail takes you along the breakwater which protects the mouth of the river. The views west to Lagos are breathtaking and equally stunning back along the beach towards Portimão. From the end of the trail you can retrace your steps or walk back along the beach to the car park.

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The final part of the trail leading to the breakwater

This is another of those areas that regardless if you are interested in birding, nature or just looking for a pleasant walk you won’t be disappointed.

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Fish can be spotted from the breakwater

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A nice catch!

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A small picnic in the lee of the dunes

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Wet and Windy in Portimão – March 2018

Spring has just arrived and compared to other parts of the world we have spent the winter in, this has been pretty nice. The last few weeks have been the wettest and windiest we have seen in Portugal, but in spite of this you can enjoy outdoor activities year round. For North Americans seeking swimming weather at the beaches and tropical temperatures in January and February you had better stick to the Caribbean however.

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Across the Arade River to Ferragudo

There have been a series of low pressure systems develop in the Eastern Atlantic and this has been causing significant wind and precipitation not only in Portugal but throughout Europe. There has been some damage along the coastline of the Algarve, particularly in the Faro area where small tornadoes were generated. The following pictures give a sense of the ferocity of the wind and waves in the Portimão area.

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Praia de Três Castelos

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Praia da Rocha on a very windy day

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The waves broke through and the breakwater and destroyed one restaurant

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Flooding in the Tivoli Marina area

We have upped our game a little at the gym and have been following a training regimen recommended by the great trainers at the Ginasio Amaryllis where we go 2-4 times a week. We love that they also have tennis courts and an indoor spa which is included in the monthly price. A swim in the heated pool followed by a sauna or Turkish steam room feels really good.

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We’re very happy with our nearby gym

Unfortunately however our Portuguese learning has slacked off as we are waiting for summer to enroll in the second level classes. We continue to practice whenever possible at the grocery stores, restaurants and markets, which helps in the maintenance of the basics but we need to be pushed harder. Watching Portuguese subtitles at the movies, on television and on the radio also helps. All of our services and accounts are in Portuguese.

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Packed stadium for FC Porto but we ended up sitting on the wrong side

We are still getting through all of the paperwork, even though most of the heavy lifting is done. We turned in our Canadian Driver’s Licences back in January and were given temporary ones until March 13. They didn’t arrive so we returned to Faro and after a relatively simple process were given extensions until mid-September. Hopefully they will be here by then! The same thing happened with the change of address on our vehicle registration. So we were given another month extension on that as well.

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Typical dark clouds for the past month

The final piece is the changing of address on our Residencia card. After a wait of three months our appointment with SEF was on March 19 and that was a relatively easy process to get a new one. Another €40 euro fee however.

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There are many stork nests along the roadside in Odiáxere

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A pleasant street near our apartment

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Portimão from the Igreja de Ferragudo

We have just filed our taxes for the first time as Canadian Non-residents. The Non-Resident section of CRA has actually been very helpful in navigating the emigration process. We think we have it figured out and the next few weeks will tell the story. With the Tax Treaty between Canada and Portugal, and the Portuguese Non Habitual Resident (NHR) program it actually works to our financial advantage filing from here.

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The ever popular “Hippie Market”

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Just one of many inviting scenes in Silves

We haven’t been able to get outside exploring as much as we’d like over the past month, but have managed a few short trips in the vicinity. Friends from Nova Scotia were in town for a week so we enjoyed having a chance to share some of the great views, good food and local experiences. Unfortunately most of the time was very windy, but we did try a couple of new restaurants and a couple old favorites.

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An avid researcher – Paul was so happy to visit the prehistoric site of Alcalar!

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One of the few days when there was a clear view from the Foia. Very windy though.

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The “Luar de Foia” in Monchique is highly recommended for grilled meat lovers

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One of our local favorites – “Peixarada” in Portimão

We are looking forward to starting some day hikes, doing more birding and spending more time outdoors in the next couple of weeks. We hope to head farther north as well and beginning to expand our knowledge of the rest of the country. In the mean time we continue to enjoy our small corner of the Algarve and the the little things that make it home.

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Along the shore of the River Arade

Nesting storks, arrivals of spring birds from Africa, wildflowers, rivers with water and lush green grounds are all new to us as we enter our first Spring season. Bring it on!

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On the summit of the Foia

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It is fascinating to see where the storks will build their nests

 

 

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Birding in the Algarve – Lagoa dos Salgados

Just south of Pêra you can find one of the better sites for bird watching in the Algarve. Lagoa dos Salgados is a typical coastal lagoon separated from the sea by the extensive Praia Grande dune system. Covering an area of about 50 hectares there are several good viewing points for the extensive variety of waterfowl in particular which can be found here.

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Listed in the national list of Important Bird Areas, over 200 species have been recorded here. It is also known as a good area to spot rarities and other less common species such as the Ferruginous Duck and the Squacco Heron. Other interesting species like the Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Golden Plover, Pied Avocet, Ruff and Eurasian Spoonbill are spotted regularly.

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Access is easy from the N125 at Alcantarilha and following the N269-1 and then the M526 from which you can see the marsh and spot the turn off. The best approach is from the north side of the lagoon where there are easy parking areas, open trails and good viewing points across the marsh. Tourismo de Portugal has produced a terrific online “Birdwatching Guide to the Algarve” that shows this and many other sites in detail.

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Between the lagoon and the dune system is a band of fields and scrub which provide good viewing areas for a number of birds. We enjoyed a picnic amongst the bushes this winter and had several nice sightings while eating our lunch. To finish your visit a short walk across the dunes will bring you to beautiful Priai Grande de Pêra.

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As we are still relatively new to European birding we added several “lifers” to our list on our first two visits here. Whether you are a serious birder, a casual observer or just want an accessible and pleasant walk you won’t be disappointed spending a couple hours here.

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Algarve Daily Living – January 2018

The past few weeks have been pretty much split between enjoying Erik’s time with us over the holidays and more paperwork. We are well into winter which means there are a few chilly and wet days but for the most part we have enjoyed sunshine. Winter definitely calls for layers here. When you are in the shade or the wind you will appreciate fleece or a “puffy coat” but in the afternoon sun you can strip down to a short sleeve shirt.

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Early January on the beach in Salema

We did our first airport “run” to Lisbon to pick Erik up. It is about a three hour drive from Portimão on toll highways all the way, so it is a relatively easy drive – but it is expensive. It cost €45 return for tolls, but fortunately our car gets great mileage so that part wasn’t too bad. By way of comparison, we spent €44 each for a return trip on the train (First Class) to Lisbon in early January.

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A typical service area on the toll highway in Alentejo

Our first few days of Erik’s visit were spent in showing him around Portimão, Alvor and Lagos. There are plenty of beautiful beaches, interesting streets, great restaurants and pleasant walks within a short distance of home so those days passed by very quickly. The streets of Portimão and Lagos were all decked out in Christmas lights and decorations so it added to the atmosphere that we enjoy so much.

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Praça de República, Portimão

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An evening walk in Lagos

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Museu de Portimão

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Sardine baskets at the Museu de Portimão

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Old city gate at Lagos

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Ponta da Piedade

Of course we had to go see the latest Star Wars movie which we thought was excellent! Then it was time to head to Sevilla for a wonderful return visit to this city which we love.

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Old city skyline in Sevilla

Christmas at our place was a pretty low-key but enjoyable and relaxing day. A roast duck with trimmings was very tasty accompanied by a nice Portuguese rose Vinho Verde. New Year’s Eve was celebrated with friends coming over for the evening, culminating with fireworks on the Portimão riverfront. An excellent way to finish off an exciting year and to kick-off 2018.

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Fogos de artifícios over the River Arade

With so many interesting and beautiful areas around this end of the Algarve to share with Erik, it was hard to decide which ones to visit on the few days that he had remaining. In the end we decided on a trip to the Foia in the Serra de Monchique, a drive to Sagres and “the end of the world”, and a beach day exploring the coastline around Salema and Burgau. As you can tell from the pictures and from previous posts there are many many beautiful day trips nearby.

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The Algarve coast from the Foía

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Footpath to the lighthouse on Cape Sagres

To finish off his visit, we all took the train to Lisbon. This was our first time using the train as for this route as we normally take the bus. However with prices being comparable and taking advantage of First Class tickets we have to say the train will be our mode of choice when schedules permit. The trains do not run as often as the buses but the relaxation of a First Class coach from Tunes to Lisbon make it a more enjoyable ride. For anyone considering this way of traveling you have to take the small regional train from Portimão (or Lagos) to Tunes where you change, at the platform, for the larger intercity train to Lisbon. The cost for us was €44 each return.

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A First Class ticket on the train to Lisboa is great value

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Elevador de Santa Justa, Lisboa

It felt really good to be back in Lisbon, if only for one night. We rented a nice apartment through Airbnb near Rossio Station giving us walking access to the streets of downtown Lisbon. We enjoyed seeing the Christmas decorations and lights that were everywhere. Finished off by a delicious seafood dinner it was a great way to end Erik’s trip. Judging by his reaction we will have no problem convincing him to come back again soon!

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Fantastico!

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Even in January you can enjoy the evening meal (jantar) outside

Our Beginner’s Portuguese classes ended in mid-January. We were pleased with the progress we made and found them very enjoyable. Our instructor Vanessa was excellent and we feel we made a friend as well. It was also a great way to meet people – we had classmates from England, Belgium, USA, Czech Republic and Thailand. We plan to move into the Elementary level classes later this year.

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The Portimão skyline from Ferragudo

As we mentioned in earlier posts, changing addresses here in Portugal, especially for immigrants, involves a lot of work (and costs) so we are hoping we will be able to stay in our current condo for as long as possible. The first step is to register at the Serviço de Finanças (Financial Office) in your local city to change the address on your Fiscal Number (NIF). This we accomplished easily and at no cost.

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We never tire of visiting Praia do Castelejo

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We saw three other people on this day we visited

For immigrants the major change is you will need to provide SEF with any change in your address and have a new card issued. We arrived at SEF to do this and were told we needed a prior appointment. After several attempts of setting up an appointment we have one in mid-March. We understand you need a full security check again, picture re-take and fingerprints before a new card is issued. The charge for this is €40 per person.

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Castelo de São João do Arade, Ferragudo

If you own a vehicle you will need to change the address on your Matrículas de Automóveis (registration). This is done at your local office of irn or Instituto dos Registos e do Notoriado. Be prepared for a bit of a wait (ours was over an hour) and to shell out another €30.

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There is always an interesting mix of vehicles on the streets of Portimão

One of the things we put off that we shouldn’t have, was to register for the National Health Care System. There is no cost associated with this and it gives you access to the public health system as well as reduced prices on prescription medications. It is relatively straightforward and you go to your local Centro de Saúde (which are operated by the National Health Service) and ask for a cartao de utente (citizen card). They will likely ask you for a Social Security card/number but we don’t have one as we are retired and not working here. It didn’t seem to be a problem although we have heard that some places were more adamant that you had one.

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Castelo de Silves

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Brilliant blues in Salema

Our last hurdle was to exchange our Nova Scotia Driver’s Licences for Portuguese ones. For Canadian citizens this must be done within 3 months of acquiring your Residencia. You should check with the Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes (IMT) as the requirements are different for various non-EU countries. The full list of requirements with more background are on our Emigrating to Portugal page. If you do not get this exchange completed within the time allocated you will have to do a full Driver’s test in Portuguese, so we wanted to avoid that.

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Mercado Municipal, Faro

There is only one IMT office in the Algarve (or Faro District) and that is in Faro which is about an hour from Portimão. Once we had all of our documents and had completed the required medical we headed to Faro. The wait in the office wasn’t too long and then we faced the ladies behind the desks (balcaos) which can be intimidating at times. It was also a little nerve wracking to hand over our Canadian licenses. Once that was done our pictures and electronic signatures were taken and more money changed hands. The fee associated with this is €30. We were issued temporary licenses and are patiently waiting for our new licenses to arrive in the mail.

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Another colourful street, Faro

If this all sounds like quite a bit of work – it is. We set aside either a morning or an afternoon for any visit or appointment as lines can be long and most of the paperwork is filled out at the desks and is usually quite slow. For the most part we have been well treated but keep in mind that like in most parts of the world the bureaucratic process can be tedious and is not always a pleasant experience.

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Sunshine breaking through over the cliffs at Praia do Cordoama

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These small wetlands at Boca do Rio held a nice variety of wading birds

Our overall thoughts on going through the processes here is that we are still quite amazed at how relatively easily we have been able to obtain residence. Perhaps the biggest challenges are the lack of good information and also what seems to be inconsistency in application of the rules. For the most part your own experience will depend on who you get at the desk and how you chose to deal with them. They prefer to speak Portuguese and the more you know of the language the better off you will be. Common sense and courtesy will go a long way to smooth the interactions but even that isn’t enough sometimes.

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The mouth of the River Arade

We are enjoying both our condo and our new home town very much. From what we have seen of alternatives and heard from others we are fortunate to have found a modern apartment with the amenities we have and in such a good location for the price. It works very well for us.

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Estação CP Portimão

The longer we are in Portimão, the more we are finding it suits us. We can take a scenic walk along the Zona Ribeirinha (riverfront), it has all the shopping and services we need, most government services are available here, and it offers a good variety of cultural and recreational facilities. Some added bonuses are the very nice municipal mercado, bus and train access, a museum in the former sardine factory, a local futebol team, and businesses that are open year round.

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There is always a great selection of fresh fish and seafood at the mercado

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A big win for the home side. Final score Portimonense 4 – Rio Ave 1.

So as we move into the latter stages of winter and look forward to experiencing our first Algarve spring we are content and very pleased how our life is unfolding here.

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Late in January the landscape comes alive with almond blossoms

 

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Living Statues of Lagoa

In what has become a popular annual Christmas event, the Municipality of Lagoa hosted 15 performers in December. Living Statues are a popular form of busking throughout the world and are common on the busy streets of Lisbon, as well as in the Algarve during the height of the tourist season.

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Coffee with the legendary Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa

The Christmas event was a great opportunity for us to experience several performances in one location. Along with friends we enjoyed a sunny Saturday morning in this town which is about 15 minutes from Portimão.

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A perfect morning for enjoying the performances

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An elaborate costume

There weren’t nearly as any people as we expected so we had plenty of time to interact with the performers and appreciate their talents. The costumes were amazing and very well crafted, obviously representing many hours of work in preparation.

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The Ice Queen

The patience and discipline required to carry out this form of street performance is significant. The performers remain totally still until surprising a passerby with an unexpected movement or sound. Their abilities and costumes are rewarded by tips from the audience. Usually a tip is acknowledged by some form of gesture or activity.

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It becomes even more challenging as a couple

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A recording accompanied this DJ

We were impressed by the originality and variety of performers in Lagoa. Watching the rapt faces of children as they waited for a movement or a blinking eye was part of the pleasure. of course there are always those who sometimes go too far in trying to create a response but for the most part everyone seemed to enjoy the performances.

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The post man was particularly good

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A friendly bar maid

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The use of pedestals is common

We try to repay street performers who go above and beyond in originality and talent and on this occasion there were several who caught our eye and appreciation.

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Even Napoleon was portrayed

Hopefully Lagoa will continue to sponsor this performance in future years and we will be certain to return next holiday season.

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Bare feet added to this performance

 

 

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