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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Sevilla in Pictures: Even Better the Second Time Around

We enjoyed Sevilla so much last year that we knew when Erik arrived for the Christmas holidays that a return trip had to be part of our plans. So we boarded an early bus in Portimão and settled in for the 5 hour ride. This route had stops in many of the Algarve towns and even in Huelva, Spain so it was a long morning. Other than the bus you can make the drive fairly easily by car and use overnight parking in Sevilla which is the other practical way to get there.

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Bus station in Huelva – Erik’s first exposure to Spain

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The Seville Cathedral never fails to impress

We chose to stay at a central hostel near the Cathedral and from that location we could easily walk to the major points of interest that we wanted to see. We arrived just 5 days before Christmas so there was a very festive feeling in the air throughout the city.

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Whatever the season there are always people about in the squares

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The nave at Christmas

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Is Christopher Columbus really here?

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Catching the last of the sun in the late afternoon

The streets of the old city were decked out with trees, lights, and carousels and Christmas markets were scattered throughout. Scores of people cheerfully strolled along the broad boulevards and narrow alleyways. As before, we were enthralled with the social activity of just walking with friends and family while occasionally stopping for a a drink, gelato or a bite to eat. We tried to emulate this custom and quickly fell into a similar pattern.

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The lights start to come in as the sun dips behind the Cathedral

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Everyone is on the streets for an evening stroll

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These decorations flashed in time with Christmas music.

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The carriages operate late into the evening

There were a few experiences from last year that we had to share with Erik such as the Cathedral, the Alcázar and Plaza de España, These are all high on the must see list of attractions in Sevilla, but we also wanted to try some new ones. A carriage ride through the gardens, a visit to Plaza de Toros and an afternoon visit to the wonderfully relaxing  Aire Ancient Baths de Sevilla were new to us. No trip to Sevilla would be complete without flamenco so we chose to return to La Casa de Flamenco which we enjoyed so much last year.

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Of course we had to return to the Alcázar

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Sunlight on the Fountain of Mercury in the Alcázar

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Relaxing before the baths at Aire de Seville

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Rental boats at Plaza de España

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Erik admiring the setting for Naboo (Star Wars location)

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Trying to capture the colours of the Plaza de España

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Loving a carriage ride through the gardens of the Parque de Maria Luisa

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We tried as many varieties of tapas as possible

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Our second time to La Casa del Flamenco didn’t disappoint

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Museum of Arts and Popular Customs

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Vendors sell bags of feed for the pigeons – not sure if this is a good idea though

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One of the impressive Roman displays at the Archaeological Museum

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We aren’t bullfighting fans but the museum at Plaza de Toros is worth a look

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The ring is impressive and brings to mind many evocative images

Our three nights passed all too quickly and we headed back to Portugal on Christmas Eve. We had thought about staying for Christmas but decided on a quiet day in Portimão instead. As much as we love Sevilla we weren’t sure how much would be open and hanging out in the hostel wasn’t what we wanted to do.

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Coffee and tostas for breakfast around the corner from our hostel

As you can see there is a lot that we love about Sevilla and it is a certainty that we will return – perhaps next December? Or perhaps more likely for a soccer match this winter.

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Portuguese Daily Life: December 2017

Another two months have come and gone and as always it seems like there has been plenty going on. The biggest news is that on December 1 we moved to Portimão. Moving always requires plenty of logistics and paperwork but it went well and we are now settled into our new apartment. We have updated information on some of the things you need to know and links on our Emigrating to Portugal page for anyone interested in the process and there is more information on our new home later in this post.

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Several seafood restaurants in an attractive Portimão enclave

Our normal routine includes a visit to the gym three times a week and two and a half hour Portuguese classes twice a week. We try to play a game of tennis each week as well as taking a day for “exploring”. When you add in groceries, laundry, banking and other day to day activities there isn’t a lot of extra time left over.

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Bill and Melanie posing at “The End of the World” – Cabo de São Vicente.

Friends from Nova Scotia stopped in for a visit for a couple of days in November. We enjoyed their company and showing them around this corner of the Algarve. It gave us a chance to visit some of the places we enjoy and to show off some of the reasons why we enjoy living here.

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Pathway down the cliffs at Fortaleza do Beliche, Sagres.

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Only a Nova Scotian would find the water warm in November!

For one of our exploratory trips we headed east again and visited Armação de Pêra, and drove through Albufeira to Villamoura. The small town of Armação de Pêra is based mainly on tourism so it was very quiet when we pulled in around noon. There were a couple dozen people enjoying the remnants of summer on the beach and a few more having lunch at some of the restaurants along the pretty streets. We had a terrific Indian meal and were the only customers.

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Attractive roundabout centre in Armação de Pêra

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Praia Grande de Pêra

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Mural dedicated to poet Antônio  Pereira in his hometown of Armação de Pêra

Driving through Albufeira confirmed for us that it wasn’t what we were looking for in a town to settle in. While undeniably attractive, many of the streets were lined with bars and tourist restaurants and it seemed a bit too commercialized for our liking. A friend of ours lives in Villamoura so we decided to have a look. We were surprised when we arrived to find palm-lined streets, bicycle paths and everything seemed very manicured. It is an unincorporated town and is basically a resort built around golf clubs, marinas, services and hotels. It all seemed very pleasant (but expensive) and while we could definitely enjoy the bicycle paths, birding areas and well maintained trails, it was lacking much of the Portuguese flavour we enjoy. The beach front bar where we stopped for a coffee was quite idyllic however and the ambiance of the late afternoon sun and smooth jazz music was most enjoyable.

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On the road to Aljezur

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Sweet potatoes (batata-doce) are one of the major crops in the area

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Flaming sausages were just one of the menu choices at the food hall

The town of Aljezur hosts an annual Sweet Potato Festival. This small town lies just inland from some of the surfing beaches along the west Vincentine coast and is known for its sweet potato production. Attended by several thousand visitors each year this is a popular festival showcasing the varied uses of the tuber along with other regional specialties such as honey, liqueurs, handcrafts and music. It was a fun afternoon and we tried some wild boar paired with sweet potato fries – excellent!

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Wild boar, sweet potatoes and vinho tinto

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Museu de Portimão celebrates sardine fishing and canning

An afternoon spent with our Portuguese class at the Portimão Museum was very enjoyable. It happens to be very close to our new home so this was also a great chance to start to get to know our new neighbourhood. It is located on the Zona de Riberinha which is a very pleasant pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk along the shores of the River Arade. We can see that this will become a regular walking route for us.

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Zona Ribeirinha de Portimão

The museum itself was very well laid out and informative. Housed in an old sardine factory it tells the history of Portimao, the surrounding areas and the sardine canning process in detail. The tour was all in Portuguese and we even managed to understand most of what the guide told us.

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This was the actual processing room where the sardines were brought into the factory

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Listening carefully – our Portuguese professor on the right

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Boilers and ovens where the sardines were cooked

We made our move to Portimão on the first of December. We loved Lagos and in many ways hated to leave, but we found an excellent opportunity that we had to take advantage of. Long term rentals are very hard to come by in the Algarve so when we had the chance to get a bright and comfy two bedroom two bath condo at a price (€700 per month) within our budget we knew we had to act quickly.

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Our building overlooking the River Arade

In addition to the physical part of the move there are many aspects of paperwork that we now need to look after as a result of moving. Like anywhere in the world we have to change our address for things like the bank, car insurance, toll cards, health insurance etc. As well we have to visit SEF in person along with the Financial Office to get our documents changed with our new address.

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There is a lot of the Algarve in this shot – one of Portimão’s smaller streets

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View from our building’s rooftop patio and the ruins of the São Francisco Convent

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Neighbouring Ferragudo from Portimão

Of course we have to get used to driving (and finding places to park) in our new city. With a population of around 55,000 Portimao is larger than Lagos, has many more permanent residents and is known as a shopping hub in this end of the Algarve. So there are busy streets, larger access roads and more roundabouts to get used to. For the most part it is fun – but not trying to find a parking place at the Aqua Mall on a holiday afternoon!

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The streets of old Portimão are mainly for local residents – not tourists

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Igreja do Colégio in the Praça de Republica

We love our new condo apartment and its location in a quiet part of the city overlooking the river. We are in a small building with a mixture of Portuguese and foreign residents. There are plenty of walking opportunities nearby and within 20 minutes (5 minutes by car) we can get to grocery stores, the riverside boardwalk, the football stadium, Praia da Rocha, cinemas, tennis courts, the Municipal theatre, restaurants and much more. As we settle in we’ll start exploring more.

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Along the riverside boardwalk

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Outside a well known restaurant of the same name – can’t wait to try it out

One thing we have quickly learned is that Portimão is a residential working class Portuguese city, unlike its next door neighbour Praia da Rocha (and many other Algarve towns) which is purpose-built to cater to foreign tourists. This provides a different experience as the main part of the city is designed for the convenience of residents as opposed to catering to the tourism industry. While it may not always be as glitzy as other towns, Portimao feels like a working-class town that is going about its business.

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One of several small but beautiful beaches in Praia da Rocha

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The popular Praia da Rocha and it’s namesake town

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As always we love to seek out interesting back streets

It has a wonderful municipal theatre, a good selection of restaurants at reasonable prices, great recreational facilities and a much to our delight it is home to the Portimonense soccer club which competes in the Primeira Liga (Portugal’s top flight professional division). Overall we are very pleased with our new home and feel that it s a good choice for us.

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Great birding from the boardwalks in nearby Alvore

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Our first Premeira Liga match in Portimão

This will be our last post in 2017. Erik is coming to visit with us for the holidays and we plan to be very active, including a trip back to Sevilla which we enjoyed so much last year. We would like to wish everyone a great holiday season, whatever you may be doing, wherever you may be and all the best for the upcoming year.

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Nativity scene in old Portimão

Obrigado pela sua atenção e Boas Festas!

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Lagos: A Historical Walking Tour

Over the past thee months we have become much better acquainted with our current home of Lagos, including the beaches, cafes, streets and markets. However, we have walked by churches, monuments and the old city walls on many occasions without always knowing the history and stories associated with them.

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A controversial 1973 statue of Rei (King) Dom Sebastião in Praça Gil Eanes

Lagos is a maritime town, and has a long and colourful history, dating back over 2000 years. Its earliest settlers were Celtic, and was later settled by Carthaginians and Romans. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Lagos became home to Visigoths and Byzantines all attracted by its strategic harbour.

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Rua Dr. Faria e Silva

The Moors arrived in the 8th Century and fortified the town with Lagos Castle. It remained under Moorish control until relatively late in the Reconquista (1429). Over the next several centuries, Lagos remained an important seaport which saw hundreds of explorers, merchants and slavers sailing in and out of its harbour.

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Tile mosaic by artist “Xana” in the Mercado da Avenida

There are reminders of Lagos’ history throughout the town, so one sunny morning we decided to take the “Historic Walking Tour” which is promoted on local guidebooks and maps.

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The colourful entrance to the Live Science Centre

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Igreja de São Sebastião

The walk begins at Praça (Square) Gil Eanes Square which is the main square in the middle of town between the harbour and the old town. You then climb the cobbled streets past the Mercado da Avenida and the Science Centre to some beautiful viewpoints near the 15th Century Igreja de São Sebastião.

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The aquamarine harbour blends with the whitewashed walls

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We love this little street – Rua da Barroca

Descending to the Avenidos dos Descobrimentos the walk then follows the ornate and narrow Rua da Barroca. The wall along this street was the original seawall before the new Avenida was constructed.

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Glimpsed through the doors of a seafood restaurant

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Not part of the official “tour” but fun nonetheless

You then enter Praça do Infante Dom Henrique which holds several important sites including the Mercado dos Escravos (Slave Market Museum), Igreja de Santa Maria (dating back to the 15th Century) and the 17th Century Military Depot.

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Slave Market Museum

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Infante Dom Henrique / Henry the Navigator statue in his namesake square

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Igreja de Santa Maria

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The nave of Igreja de Santa Maria

Leaving the square you walk along the old city walls through the Jardim du Constituição and cross the avenida to Forte de Ponta de Bandeira. Built in the 17th Century this fort was used to defend the port, and includes a drawbridge. There are many wonderful viewpoints along the coast and of several beaches from this area.

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São Gonçalo Turrets and gateway to the old town

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Forte de Ponta da Bandeira

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The statue of São Gonçalo de Lagos looks across the harbour entrance to the sea

The last portion of the walk takes you impressively through the walls beneath the São Gonçalo Turrets which are classified as a National Monument. You will enjoy the narrow and colourful streets in this part of town before winding your way back to Gil Eanes Square.

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Rua Miguel Bombarda

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A particularly attractive intersection beneath the old walls

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Entrance to the Museu Municipal Dr. José Formosinho

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Loving the colours and variety of the old streets

This will be our last post from Lagos as we are moving to nearby Portimão (more to come) but we will certainly spend a lot of time in Lagos which remains one of our favorite places anywhere. This walk filled in some of the historic gaps for us and we now have a much better appreciation for its cultural and natural charms.

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Tavira: A Visual Introduction

Near the far Eastern end of the Algarve is the beautifully unique town of Tavira. Exuding charm, history and character, glimpses of its Moorish history and role as a trading port can be found everywhere. Today, tourism is the major industry however you could easily become lost in time along the banks of the tranquil Gilão River, in its many (21+) churches or just admiring the unique architectural features of the colourful Portuguese houses on its narrow cobbled streets.

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We have heard such good things about this town that we had to see for ourselves. So along with friends we drove the approximately 120 km from one end of the Algarve to the other.  It was a beautiful sunny October day (like most here this year) and as soon as we wriggled into a parking spot along the river we knew that we would enjoy this town.

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Many small restaurants surround Praca Dr. Antonio Padinha

The streets and alleys of the old town were inviting and we explored a few before stopping for lunch in a small sunlit square. We had passed a mix of Indian, Portuguese and Italian restaurants offering inviting pratos do dia (plate of the day) and the smell of curry, grilled sardines and piri-piri chicken wafting through the air called to our empty stomachs.

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These “tourist trains” are ubiquitous throughout the Algarve

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The “Roman Bridge” is more likely Moorish in origin

Tavira’s origins date back to the Phoenicians who created a large urban settlement here in 800 BC. The Moorish occupation of Tavira began in the 8th Century and continued until 1242 during the Reconquista. Salt, dried fish and wine were important exports from the town as it became a major trading port. Like most of the Algarve, Tavira was decimated by the earthquake in 1755 when most of its buildings were destroyed or severely damaged.

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Looking upriver from the Ponte Romana

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Anne and Dick cooling off in the shade

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A beautifully restored facade glows in the sunlight

An architectural feature unique to Faro and Tavira are the four-sided hipped roofs which show an Oriental influence. The scissor-shaped design allows for more airflow in the rooms making them cooler in the summer and warmer in winter. These can be seen in many of the photos from around the town.

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Four-sided hipped roofs

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Fishing boats on the riverside

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There are live performances at this small Fado Museum

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Newsstand in the Public Gardens along the river

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There were few people around on this late October day

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Little Egret fishing the tidal waters of the river

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The beautiful Policia Maritima building

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A colourful memorial

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One of many churches below the walls of the old fortress

We were only in Tavira for lunch and a few hours of sightseeing but it was plenty to whet our appetite for more of this beautiful town. Like so many of the other towns and cities in the Algarve, Tavira offers much more than beaches, holiday rentals and golf courses (not that there is anything wrong with those).

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Hidden Treasures on the Back Roads

By now you know that we love poking around back roads, just out to see what lies around the next corner or over the next hill. A couple of weeks ago we decided to try the coastal roads from Raposeira to Burgau in the extreme eastern end of the Costa Vincentina and see if we could find some good beach walks. As usual, the area around our Lagos home delivered much more than we expected.

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Typical village along the inland side of the coastal cliffs

Leaving the N125 at Raposeira, our first stop was Praia da Ingrina. This is a small, sheltered beach and there were about a dozen people enjoying the sunshine. There seemed to be more people at the restaurant than on the beach.

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Praia da Ingrina

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The water was very inviting

Following a recommendation from a friend we next headed to Praia da Zavial. This is a popular surfing beach and on this afternoon there was a long line of cars parked up to a kilometer from the shore so we moved along.

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We haven’t figured out the meaning of all of these stickers, perhaps some hold a clue?

On a whim we decided to follow this sign and chance a rather rough looking road to Praia das Furnas. After about 2 kms we emerged from a small break in the cliffs to an awesome view. Across a flat stretch of gravel was a beautiful, clean golden sand beach about 1 km long. It seemed a perfect spot to stop for our picnic lunch and to relax for a while.

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The car park at Praia das Furnas

Not realizing how warm it was going to be we hadn’t packed our bathing suits with us that day. So we were quite warm carrying our picnic across the sand to the water’s edge. As we reveled in the sunshine, turquoise water and golden sand it quickly became apparent that this was a clothing optional beach.

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The water was a lovely shade of turquoise over the golden sand

We have become used to the fact that nudity is more accepted in Europe than North America but this was our first experience with a beach that was primarily devoted to naturism. Swimming, fishing, surfing, wading and all other activities were carried out with apparent ease and no apparent self consciousness. We encountered families, people of all ages and a broad range of cultural backgrounds.

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Keep an open mind

After a tasty and interesting picnic lunch on the sand we headed back along the road and soon reached the small town of Salema. The roads and streets of the village converged in one small square behind the beach and then wound their way back into the hills. We lucked into a parking spot, walked along the beach and stopped at a local cafe just back from the tourist cafes and restaurants. As an example of the great prices here, we paid just under €3 for a Sagres (beer), a glass of good vinho branco and a small bottle of agua com gas.

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The smaller end of the beach at Salema

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One of the more traditional streets in Salema

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A refreshing (and well priced) pit stop

Even though it was a beautiful location in the cove, this village was a bit too touristy for us and there wasn’t a lot of local character. So we headed on behind the headlands until we spotted a break in the cliffs and followed a sign to the aptly named Praia da Boca do Rio (Beach at the River Mouth). The tide was quite high by this time so there wasn’t a lot of sand exposed but it was a picturesque spot with very few people.

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A dry river bed runs into the beach

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A little added colour to the ruins at Praia da Boca do Rio

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Typical landscape along these back roads

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Praia da Boca do Rio from the hills above

By this time it was getting late in the afternoon but we had time for one more stop. We decided to investigate Forte de São Luís de Almádena. Some well preserved ruins of the fortress sit atop the headlands offering unimpeded views both to the East and West. It was clear why this location had been selected in 1632 by D. Luís de Sousa who was Governor General of the Kingdom of the Algarve. Interestingly as we later learned this fort was built to protect tuna fishing interests from the beach below where we had just left.

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The first view of the fort

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Imposing views from the remains of the ramparts

It was significantly damaged in the earthquake of 1755 and abandoned by at least 1849. There are some imposing remains of the fortress which provide a perfect backdrop to the imposing views along the coast and a fitting place to conclude our explorations for the day.

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Just breathe and enjoy!

As always we thoroughly enjoyed our ramblings which each time reinforce our attraction for this corner of the Algarve.

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Glimpses of our Daily Life in Portugal: October 2017

The months of September and October have flown by. We are finding ourselves much busier than we have in a long time. We are getting out and around, discovering new (to us) areas, meeting new people and learning more about our new home.

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Fried “little squid” were delicious

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Sunset in our back yard

Our biggest news is that on October 17th we received our Temporary Residence Permits (Ótimo – Portuguese for Great!). Earlier posts have described the process and in our last post we explained why we didn’t get them in September. So with our Criminal Record Checks in hand we arrived at SEF (Immigration) in the morning and after a relatively easy process we are now residents of Portugal for the next year. In addition to our visas and criminal checks we had to provide proof of address, financial means, health insurance and our newly acquired fiscal numbers.

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Lagos Court House where we obtained our criminal record checks

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The train runs several times a day between Faro and Lagos

Much more detail on the whole process and costs incurred for obtaining the Residency Permits can be found on our timeline page. The cost for a one year permit was €159.70 each.

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Lagos has plenty of little courtyards and alleys

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Boat landing at Burgau

Even after 2 months we continually marvel over the wonderful weather here. Until October 18th there was no rain and only minimal cloud since the day we arrived back in August. As great as that is however, rain is essential for the parched landscape and low reservoirs which could use many days of precipitation.

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Lagos from across the street from home

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The nearby landscape is very dry

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Barragem Bravura provides water for many Western Algarve towns and is very low

The extended hot dry weather contributed to many new forest fires in the north of the country and they have had deadly and devastating effects. Our thoughts go out to the families who have lost loved ones and to the bombeiros who valiantly combat the fires.

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Lagos Fire Station

Our day to day life starts out with coffee on our patio, watching the day come alive with the sun. Birds call out in the orchard and overhead, and the bells from the goats and nearby church provide pleasant background sounds.

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Part of the local goat and sheep herd that passes our house every day

Apart from our boat trip from Sagres we haven’t been doing a lot of serious birding. We are however, getting to know the regular visitors in our orchard and around the trees in our yard. Every morning we have blackbirds, house sparrows, magpies, tits, egrets, gulls, collared doves and some occasional visitors like buzzards, chiffchaff and ravens. The flamboyant hoopoes are still with us and most days we spot a couple flying through the yard.

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Hoopoe

Now that we have a car we have begun exploring a little farther afield. We have tried to cover many of our day trips in our Exploring Portugal pages, and there are more to write up. Of course with a car come extra expenses. We were very pleased with insurance, as for just under €200 a year we have full comprehensive coverage. On the flip side of that gas is very expensive, running at around €1.40 a litre. Our little car has a tiny engine and manual transmission so it gives great mileage, just not much power on the hills.

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Windmill in Budens

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On the road to Aljezur

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Picnic day at Arifanna

Checking out the local flea markets and the charity shops for those bargains that we can’t do without continues to be a fun pastime. We don’t buy a lot, but recently purchased a great mini barbeque and a large beach umbrella for €2 each.

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Great cappuccinos at this little cafe in Lagos

We couldn’t resist going to the Hippie Market again on the last Sunday in September. As in our first visit it was a sensory delight and overflowing with great food, interesting people and a true smorgasbord of things for sale. Other than the great pakoras we didn’t buy anything this time around but had a lot of fun.

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Exercise bikes to retro art and most everything in between can be found

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The pakoras are excellent topped with sweet mango chutney

We really love our new apartment and have been having fun setting it up to work for us. We have bought a few things to make our life more comfortable and are preparing for the cooler and damper weather ahead. In addition to heaters and a dehumidifier, of course we needed a wine rack to store the wonderful wines that we get on sale every week at the supermarkets.

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You can get a wide assortment of very nice wines at great prices

There is no shortage of activities in the area and we are beginning to figure out which ones will work for us. To care for our bodies we have joined the municipal facility Lagos en Forma. This is a modern facility operated by the Municipality of Lagos which opened 10 years ago. It has a modern and well equipped gym, three pools, an indoor court and many other amenities. At a cost of €31 per month it is great value.

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“Lagos en Forma”. The municipal recreation facility.

For mental exercise, as well as to better integrate into our new home we have enrolled in a “Portuguese for Beginners” course at the Centro de Línguas Cultura e Comunicação in the nearby town of Portimão. It is a 50 hour course that runs until mid-January. We started on October 23rd and will provide an update on our progress in the next monthly post. We’re looking forward to it but are a little nervous as this is our first formal language training in many many years.

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Relaxing with a coffee before class

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Used for collecting stones, carrying wood and all sorts of other jobs

One Sunday we took in the Better Living in Portugal trade show in Portimão. It was organized by “Afpop” an expat support organization, and was intended to introduce expats (mostly) to services available in the Algarve. It was an informative and fun afternoon with everything from health and financial services, home improvement, funeral planning, language training, travel assistance and many food and wine producers on hand.

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Better Living in Portugal (BLIP) exposition in Portimao

Amongst all of these activities and our day trips we spent 5 days in Valencia, Spain at the home of friends Kemi and Feda. Along with Dick & Anita we traveled 12 hours each way by bus and train. It was an excellent visit and we will have a separate post about that in the near future.

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Plaza de Ayuntamiento, Valencia

Now that we have our Residency Permits in hand we can relax a bit and begin to establish more of a daily routine. We have little things like supermarket customer cards, our own doctor and gym memberships to make us feel like we are at home and we are starting to find favorite restaurants, walks and cafes. We can understand most of the labels at the grocery stores, menus at restaurants and how to operate the gas pumps. Once we can talk with people in Portuguese we will be even more comfortable.

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Post Office in Pedralva

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Anne and Kiki enjoying the sunshine, coffee and spectacular views at Arifanna

Every day we realize what a good choice Lagos, and Portugal was for us and we are grateful for having the opportunity to call it home for at least another year.

Até o mês que vem!

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Seabirds of Sagres

Warning. The following blog contains pictures that in no way resemble the magnitude of awesomeness described in the text or in reality.

The 8th Annual Sagres Birdwatching Festival took place from October 4 – 8 and was centered less than half an hour from Lagos. Coinciding with the annual raptor migration this is a well known event that draws serious birders and casual visitors from around the world.

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The festival headquarters at the Beliche Fortress, just outside of Sagres

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The fortress has a stunning clifftop location

Along with a small group of friends we decided to take advantage of the special festival prices and do a seabird watching tour operated by SeaXplorer Sagres. This is a well run and professional company that we would highly recommend if you are looking for a boat tour in this area.

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Meeting point in Sagres

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The fishing harbour of Baleeira

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We spotted many gulls on these cliffs

The fishing harbour of Baleeira with its colourful boats bobbing on the waves, the smell of fish, the cries of the gulls and the surrounding cliffs is an appropriate departure point. As you round the breakwater beneath the towering cliffs you immediately feel the freshness of the Atlantic breeze. Very soon you pass the headland and have open sweeping views past Fortaleza de Sagres to Cabo de São Vicente.

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The lighthouse on Cape Sagres and Cabo de Sao Vincente

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Dolphins love to ride in the wake

As we left the coast we soon encountered fairly large flocks of Northern gannets and small pods of common dolphin. Some good spotting from the crew also found a half dozen Storm petrels and Wilson’s storm petrels. We were all excited to have three larger bottlenose dolphins frolic in our wake for a few minutes.

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Northern gannets in flight

As enjoyable as this was, our knowledgeable guide was looking for more birds and we headed offshore to where we would be likely to encounter shearwaters. As we neared an area of stronger currents at about 10 nautical miles offshore we spotted a large group of seabirds circling in the distance. We were excited but unprepared for the spectacle we were about to witness.

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Northern gannets (juvenile and adult)

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Crystal clear water allowed us to see the dolphins several feet below the boat

It soon became apparent that there was a lot of activity both on the surface and under the water. Literally hundreds of dolphins were feeding on schools of small fish which were visible from the boat. In the midst of the these schools, gannets were diving and Cory’s (as well as Great, Sooty and Manx) shearwaters were feeding from the surface and a few gulls and skuas were watching carefully to see if they could steal a lunch from the other birds. We put our cameras away and just enjoyed the extravaganza. Unfortunately, none of the pictures we had taken up to that point in any way captured the reality of this magnificent display. We hope you enjoy the pictures we did get!

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On the lookout for sardines

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Northern gannets

We have observed many whales, dolphins, porpoise and rays feeding in the Bay of Fundy, in the Caribbean and off the coasts of Newfoundland, Ecuador and Costa Rica but this was the most dramatic hunting display we have encountered anywhere. In every direction dolphins were feeding, jumping and racing under the boat while hundreds of seabirds either actively fed or waited for scraps. It was a feeding frenzy scene directly out of National Geographic and one of the closest examples to a bait ball you can view from a boat.

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Got lucky with this shot

After what seemed like half an hour, but was probably less, the activity gradually subsided. But even as we reluctantly headed back towards the distant coast there were still dozens of dolphins and birds lazily searching the surface for the remnants of the larger schools of fish.

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Cory’s shearwater

As we neared the harbour we passed some inshore islands where a number of shags were drying their wings in the afternoon sun. We asked our guide if this had been a typical day on the water for this area and he replied that we had been very privileged to witness this display of nature’s beauty. It was much more than the usual activity. We fully agreed with him and two weeks later this remains vivid in our minds and is an experience we will always treasure.

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The end of a perfect morning

Muito obrigado Portugal!

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Praia do Castelejo: A Blue Flag Beach on the Costa Vincentina

In this short post we’ll introduce you to a few more areas in this corner of our Algarvian home. The Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vincentina stretches from Burgau in the Algarve all the way north along the Atlantic coast to Porto Covo in the Alentejo. It is a region of extensive cliffs, surfing beaches, numerous hiking opportunities and is regarded as one of the best preserved coastlines in Europe.

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Typical hilltop views along this part of the coast

On a sunny September day we spent a very pleasant afternoon at the Blue Flag beach of Praia do Castelejo. The town of Vila do Bispo is about a 20 minute drive from home and is where you will find the road to Castelejo. Following the signs from the center of town you drive across the tops of the windswept hills where you will see a signpost for the road to the beach.

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We knew we were on the right track

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The sign for Castelejo is easy to miss

As you begin the winding descent down the mostly one lane road to the shore, glimpses of the Atlantic open up and you soon arrive at one of the two parking areas. From here it is a short walk to the beach. There is a restaurant here specializing in fresh seafood which we tried for lunch. A cold drink or coffee in one of the most picturesque spots you can imagine can’t help but bring on feelings of contentment and peace.

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First glimpse of the beach

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What a view!

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No crowds on this day

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Only surfers in the water

Dominated by immense black schist cliffs the backdrop is breathtaking. Best known by locals for fishing and surfing it is an excellent location for walking or just relaxing and watching the surf roll onto the golden sand. At low tide you can walk around the point to the adjoining Praia da Cordoama  which is equally beautiful.

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The two beaches are joined at low tide

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Tide pools make for great exploration

This coast is exposed to winds directly off the Atlantic so it can be cooler than the southern beaches but it is proportionately less crowded as well. So bring along a windbreaker, your sense of adventure and just enjoy the magnificent setting – we certainly did!

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A sheltered spot in the sun

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Beginner’s surf lesson

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Just relax and enjoy a sense of being!

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