Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The minor details from Olhão

I'm a bit late this week, mainly because I've been immersed in cooking up a game for students to play on an app as a study support. It's been challenging to say the least. I've got to produce 600 questions with multiple choice options. Well, needless to say I've been thinking hard about what linguistic conundrums will be the most useful in supporting the gamers in their learning.

Putting that aside for a moment, though, I mentioned last week that I wanted to show you some of the balconies and doors of Olhão. Looking up is often where the greatest delights can be found. Portuguese cities don't abound with gardens, not the way they do in South Africa, the other sunny country of my acquaintance. Even in the inner city suburbs of Johannesburg, there are gorgeous gardens, but in Olhão, the visitor must look up for the feasts. Many houses have no yards and only balconies and rooftops to play with, so it's worth turning your face to the sky, not only for the healing power of the winter sun, but also to see what's up there. Here are a few balconies I snapped on our rounds of Olhão. I love them, as well as the charming rooftops.

I was fascinated by the rooftop gardens as well, especially as these are often where dogs spend their days. These two photos are some of my favourites from Olhão

And then there were other signs of life on the rooftops: washing, plants pots, and the stuff of daily life.

Rooftop life in Olhão

Thanks to Koos for this photo taken in Faro
My other passion is doors. I've taken photos of wonderful doors in Spain, Italy and France, so now was my chance to take the Portuguese versions into my frame. I loved the variety, but sadly too many traditional homes have converted to what look like aluminium framed, mass produced  models that are probably maintenance free, safe and inexpensive, but not a patch on the traditional versions, Here are just a few snaps that I took of doors that I quite liked: some beautiful, some plain and some seriously in need of TLC.

And before I forget, this beautiful sailing ship was in the lagoon when we took our last boat trip to Culatra and Farol the day before we left. A friend of ours, Colin Price, looked her up and told me she was built in the same yard in the Netherlands as my Vereeniging. Isn't that amazing?

One final and interesting titbit from our travels is that when we were in Estoi (see previous post), we met a man by the name of Stephen Powell  at the bus stop while we were waiting to return to Faro. We got chatting to him and it turned out he was a travel writer who used to be a journalist and editor for Reuters. He mentioned that he'd written a book called The First Toast is to Peace about his travels in the southern Caucasus, which of course I bought as soon as I was home. I can confirm it's a fascinating and hugely enjoyable book, so here's the link if anyone else is interested.

So that's it for this week allemaal. Enjoy the last days of January and let's hope we see the benefit of the lighter days soon.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

From islands to highlands in Portugal

Last week I mentioned that the first thing we did when we arrived in Olhão was to visit the island of Armona. I didn't manage to import many photos then, so I couldn't show much and had to tell more. Now we're home again, I can add some more photos to my posts, so just to show you how lovely it was, below is the boat that took us from the mainland across to the island. I took these snaps as it was approaching the quay to pick up the passengers.

The boat that took us to Armona

Approaching the quay
Nearly there
What I also wanted to show was the range of pushcarts we saw outside people's homes on Armona. Given that there really are no cars at all on these Rio Formosa islands, I thought these showed people's ingenuity in coping with carting stuff around. When I look at their life there and the mild, sunshiny weather, it looks pretty idyllic to me, but I imagine it can get tough and tiring at times, just as it does when you live on a boat. All that humping stuff around can put more than muscles on a body. Even so, I wouldn't mind giving it a try. It seems an acceptable price to pay for the peace of a carless environment and more than average amounts of sunshine. What do you think?

A doubled up shopping trolley and a flat bed push cart
Another flat bed push cart
This family have two plus the ubiquitous wheelbarrow

Antique flat bed

And then the standard variety that we often use too
Back in Olhão, and following our visit to Fuseta (see last week's post) we spent more time pottering around the city's back streets, which we both love. The juxtaposition of crumbling ruins with newly renovated traditional houses really appeals to us. It's a shame that it has to be foreign money that's reviving these old places but I can't see how the locals can afford it. Salaries are not high in Portugal and property prices are soaring. When I first came to Olhão four years ago, it felt very Portuguese and not touristy at all. Now, that's changing, which gives me mixed feelings. Without investors' money, many of these old homes would be unrecoverable, but at the same time, there's a price to pay for the community as a whole. Here are some examples of ruined and renewed side by side. Koos and I clicked away happily together in these tiny lanes. It's just as well we both enjoy doing this!

 There's a good potted history of Olhão on Wikipedia here, but one titbit I found especially interesting is that it was the people of the town who expelled the French occupiers following the Peninsular wars. They then built a boat and sailed to Brazil to urge their royal family to return to Portugal. Here's a photo of a replica of the boat which is moored on a jetty almost opposite the two distinctive market buildings.
Bom Sucesso, the 'royal yacht' :)
Olhão's two fresh fish market buildings from the water

On another day, we took a bus to the north of Olhão to the village of Estoi. Actually, we didn't. We took a train to Faro and then the bus as there wasn't one direct from Olhão, a pity as on one of our walks near our hostel we saw this old mile stone which told us Estoi wasn't far away at all. I should say I went to Estoi with my friend Marion the first time I came to Portugal, so it was great to be able to go there with Koos as well.

Anyway, as luck would have it, our train arrived just a few minutes before the bus left and so we hopped on for the half hour ride out of town and up into the hills. What a treat that was. Estoi was everything one could wish a Portuguese village to be. Built on the slopes of the hills leading to the something or other mountain range (I'll look it up, I promise *), it is a many layered village, and each layer seems to have its own square and café. There's also a stunning rococo palace that's now in use as a conference centre and hotel. Some of the additions they've made to attract guests are pretty tasteless, but the renovations to the palace itself have been done beautifully, and I can imagine it brings much needed employment and money to the village. What's more, visitors can walk around the palace gardens for free, which is a lovely gesture. You can read more about it here.

Anyone can walk around the palace gardens and enjoy their timeless beauty

The magnificent facade, beautifully restored

The beautiful azulejos tiles of the palace gardens

I loved this

One layer of the village and its square

Estoi's church

The whole village is on a steep hill

The walls of the palace painted to match

The upper level of the village

Lemons grow in profusion here
*Those mountains: Serra de Monte Figo

I think I'd better stop this here as otherwise this blog will go on forever. I'll finish off next time with some photos of my favourite rickety doors and a few photos of Vila Real de St Antonio where I had an away day on my own. I'll also write about the interesting encounter we had with a man at the bus stop in Estoi. 

For now, though, have a good week allemaal. It's back to work for me now, but having had a goodly dose of sunshine, I feel ready to face it all again.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Ode to Olhão and other lovely places

We’ve been back in Olhão in Portugal this week, getting what I now see as an essential annual winter sunshine boost. Like last year, we’ve had glorious weather and I count my blessings that we’ve been so fortunate to have sunshine and almost cloudless skies every day so far.

Without a car or bikes, there are of course limits to what we can do, travel wise, so we’ve walked extensively, used the local train and explored a little by bus, which we hope to do more of. However, let’s not forget the boats (how could we indeed?). 

View from our hostel

Our first excursion was to the island of Armona in the Rio Formosa. Reached by ferry from Olhão, it’s  just under €3 return for a lovely trip of half an hour each way. Armona is a magical island where the only vehicles seem to be small maintenance jeep things made by John Deere tractors. Everyone who lives there gets around the island on foot or by bike. As for transporting goods, many of the houses have their own version of a pushcart parked outside. I was fascinated to see several men coming  to the ferry when we arrived, wheeling their carts to pick up goods their wives or friends had brought a across with them.

Armona at sunset

I think I could happily hole up on Armona or its neighbour, Culatra, for a winter. That kind of simple life appeals to my ideal of a pared down existence.

Back on the mainland and walking around, we noticed how there are hundreds of small cafés all over Olhão. Literally. These are very local, so the clientele seems to be people living very close by. There are always at least a few customers in each of them, the Portuguese being a very social people, but apparently they don’t all have loos (we tried), so normal rules for hostelries don’t apply. My claim is that it’s because they can just go home if they need to. What they do have is cigarette machines, something we no longer see in northern Europe, which makes it easy for Koos to feed his habit as long as he has the right change.

On Friday, we took the train to Fuseta, where we walked around the harbour, fascinated by the fishing boats with their skinny ropes. They barely look strong enough to hold a plastic bath duck, let alone a sailboat, cruiser or fishing craft. We were also intrigued to know how the owners get on board when their craft are moored several metres from the quay. And if on board, how to they get ashore? Our answer came when I saw a man in Fuseta pull his boat to the quay, jump on board to collect something and then when he was back on the quay, he pushed his boat out again with a big shove. No anchors were involved, just a weight to keep it in position when he stopped it. Amazing.

Apart from the somewhat ‘wish and a prayer’ style of mooring, I was also fascinated by the marina’s slipway, which was just constructed of lengths of wood, like railway sleepers. I’m not sure how they haul the boats up the ramp, though. The present incumbent looked as if it had been there awhile and wasn’t about to move.

Salt pans, another feature of this coastal area.

Another entertaining moment in Fuseta occurred when we walked down a side street and saw a local lady gesticulating in some agitation. She was standing over a manhole with a crushed cover, and was clearly concerned that someone might fall into it. Help arrived in the form of a council worker riding to the rescue on a 50cc scooter that was largely held together with duct tape, and I’m not exaggerating. He got off his steed, took out his weapon which happened to be a tape measure, and leant over the offending hole. Judging by the state of his scooter, we thought he must be measuring the opening to see how much duct tape he needed to fix the cover. Thoughts of Fuseta’s public structures being held together this way appealed to our sense of the absurd. Little things, eh? Here are a few more photos from our visit to Fuseta, a charming place as are many of these small Algarve towns.

Fuseta station

A fishing boat leaving the harbour

Village street, Fuseta

Well, that’s enough for the moment. I’ll write more next time as there have been other adventures and other sights, but for now, have a great week allemaal, and I hope the sun is shining in your hearts if not on your skin.