After an amazing dinner of Argentinian beef (vegetarians don’t look!), I am relaxing in a huge terracotta tiled, wood beam ceilinged cottage up in the wilds of the Algarve in Portugal! Gregg is about to step into a lovely hot bath in the biggest bathtub we’ve seen in Europe. Mind you that’s not saying a whole lot, but at least it’s almost as big as home.
We’ve had quite a day! This morning we had our breakfast on the rooftop of the Amadeus hotel in Seville as per usual. While not feeling my best with a very heavy chest cold that has morphed into laryngitis, I was nevertheless still able to be charmed by the fresh squeezed orange juice and the view of the Seville Cathedral. The early October sun was as warm as July and the perfectly blue sky promised another amazing day in southern Spain.
Our bus to Portugal was to leave at 4:15 so we spent the day catching up on the sightseeing we hadn’t done the day before when we chose just to hang out in Seville. What a lovely, lovely city! The pace is slow and relaxed, as unlike Madrid and Barcelona as Bowen is from Vancouver. Of course it’s still a city (700,000 people and the 4th largest in Spain), but it seems more like a small town with lots of laid back looking people. Only the tourists intently studying the tiny, indecipherable maps issued by the hotels look flustered.
We wandered slowly around our neighborhood – the Barrio Santa Cruz — in search of the shops selling the real flamenco dresses. On our first day in Seville when we had to take a taxi because we got lost, I remember passing an amazing assortment of shops selling the flamenco dresses and all the accoutrements that the local women bought. These shops were the real deal, not the tourist shops that sell stuffed bulls dressed in shawls and flamenco dress aprons. We found the shops and I snapped a few photos. The beauty of the dresses, earrings, mantillas, head pieces, etc. really was breathtaking. I found myself regretting my stolid British heritage and wishing I had been born Andalucian. But not to be.
Side by side with the flamenco dress shops were shops selling the foundation garments worn under the flamenco dresses. From the looks of them, the corsets are designed to cinch in waists and uplift bosoms to give that hourglass, full-figured look favored by the flamenco dancers we’ve seen. Those women obviously enjoy their dancing and their ham!
|Flamenco dresses in the shop windows|
|More flamenco dresses|
We took a quick tour of the cathedral. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world—built not long after the conquest of Seville by the Christians and designed to remind the conquered Moors just who was boss. The altar piece is composed of two tons of gold, much of which was brought from the New World. We snapped a few pictures and nodded at Columbus’s grave (he wasn’t moved there until 1900) and then had enough. I like a good cathedral now and then but an overdose of all that gold and god does become tiresome. It doesn’t do to think too closely about all the power and subjugation the cathedral represents.
|Tons and Tons of Gold|
|Inside Seville Cathedral|
We wandered next door to the Alcazar—a Moorish palace built in the Moorish style by a Christian king. While the Alhambra was a Moorish palace built by Moors for Moors, the Alcazar is more of a Disney version. It has all the Moorish touches—ornate ceilings, lots of tiling, lovely fountains and gardens, but it was designed for 15th Century Spanish persons and so has rather a different vibe. Anyway, it was certainly impressive and actually rather more accessible and beautiful than the Alhambra. We particularly loved the gardens which went on forever—much more lush and with more to look at than we saw in Granada. Also, there were not quite so many tourists (although enough). We managed to escape most of the groups by exiting into the gardens at the first opportunity.
My camera battery died so I have no pictures but it was rather nice to just relax and enjoy the foliage and fountains.
Finally, it was time to return to the hotel, pick up our luggage and begin the next phase of our journey! As noted earlier in the blog, the only way we could get to southern Portugal was to take a bus. We managed to find the right bus and get on. The three hour journey went smoothly enough, despite the incessant pop music piped into the bus for all to hear and endure. Bad renditions of not bad pop songs got a little wearying. However, much of the scenery was really quite lovely—miles and miles of pine trees all feathery and bright green in the late afternoon sun.
We arrived at Tavira and it was as if we’d stepped back fifty years! Suddenly, we found ourselves at the side of a wide river in front of a deserted bus station. There wasn’t a taxi for miles and we really had no idea how we were to get from the bus station up into the hills to our hotel. I had booked a beautiful country style place back when we had planned to drive. Now, it didn’t seem such a great idea! Fortunately, the hotel had emailed me the directions in Portuguese to give to the taxi driver—should we find a taxi driver.
Anyway, a garrulous women in a lime green blouse befriended us. We must have looked pretty gormless with our piles of luggage (we are not traveling light!) and our total lack of Portuguese. She rattled on at us in a mixture of Portuguese and English and eventually we gathered that a taxi would come in five minutes. We waited and waited – trying to be friendly but since the only word we knew was obrigado for Gregg and obrigada for me (thank you in two sexes), the conversation was a trifle one sided.
Finally, we indicated that we would walk to the corner to see if a taxi was coming along the slightly busier road. Also, I think we were both a bit worried that the woman was angling for something or wanted a ride or whatever. After over a week in big cities, our radar for scammers was on high alert. It turns out we needn’t have worried. When we trundled to the corner and then looked back, Senora was pushing a pink bike down the road. She was just being nice to two stranded tourists! Moments later, a taxi arrived and Senora and bike hustled over to confer with the taxi driver about where we were going. We experienced a few moments of suspense as Senor read the directions provided by the hotel. Would the hotel be too far away? Would he say no, thereby stranding us? It was already almost 7 pm. Darkness was starting to fall.
But no – with a wide smile he looked up and said OK! He and the woman talked some more as he loaded our bags and then many obrigados and obrigadas later we were off!
A fifteen minute twisty wisty drive up into the hills behind Tavira brought us finally to the Herdade da Corte. We had a few false starts. Senor first took us to a different hotel but I insisted it wasn’t the right one (not easy to do with zero Portuguese and laryngitis). So off we went onto an increasingly narrow road until finally one of the outbuildings (the one we’re in as it turns out) appeared at the top of the hill. But a sign pointed downhill to Receptao (which even I figured out meant reception). Well, Senor wasn’t for going more than a few meters down the hill before turning back. It took all our combined use of sign language and really bad Spanish, French, English, and Italian (none of which made any sense to Senor) to encourage him to keep going down the road. I was convinced the main part of the hotel lay down there somewhere and indeed it did.
We were very relieved to be greeted by a lovely young couple. The woman speaks quite good English and was very welcoming. The only problem was that we had apparently double booked. I had used booking.com and for some reason had made two separate bookings one day apart. This is one of the drawbacks of planning trips online! I thought I was keeping track of all my bookings, but evidently not.
For awhile it looked as if we’d be on the hook for two rooms since it certainly wasn’t the hotel’s fault that we’d double booked and they would be out the money. Fortunately, we decided to just stay for two nights and let our booking at Lagos go (at a cost of $93 but whatever!). Since I’m definitely not all that well and the place here is just stunning, we thought hey – let’s just hang out here until it’s time to go up to Lisbon.
Otherwise, we’d be in for a four hour train journey tomorrow to get to another hotel in Lagos.
So anyway, we’re staying here and I must say I’m relieved. It’s lovely not to have to move again tomorrow! I can spend the entire day catching up on the blog (see previous posts) and just getting better. We may even get to swim. The pool looks glorious.
|Pool at the country inn in the Algarve|
At dinner we met a group of 12 walkers from England. Recognizing the distinctive northern tones of their accents, I asked one of the women where they were from. Huddersfield of all places! Well, that was a source of much merriment as I informed them that my beloved Grannie had been born in Huddersfield and moved to Canada when she was a girl. They thought this was hilarious.
To bed now to nurse my raw throat and hopefully awake in much finer fettle.