Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lovely Seville

Friday, June 29th,  Tavira Portugal to Seville Spain

There are no trains between Tavaira, Portugal and Seville, Spain but we have 10:15 A.M. tickets on the express luxury bus to Seville. After Art’s local bus experience yesterday, he is not looking forward to today’s 3.5 hour bus ride but when we slip into our spacious seats with a T.V. screen on the rear of each seat he brightens. The bus ride is comfortable and delightful and we watch the landscape scroll past our windows. The gently rolling countryside is agricultural with countless groves of dusty green olive trees dotting the golden landscape. We have a 15 minute bathroom stop along the way but in the crowded stop we neglect to take note of which of the identical busses we disembark from and upon our return are confused and the bus signage is not clear. The main women’s bathroom is under repair and a line of about 10 women wait for a single stall while men come and go quickly in their bathroom equipped with a half dozen stalls. One gutsy woman ahead of me marches into the men’s restroom and I follow behind her and find a vacant stall. Not a big deal, but I might not have had the courage to do this had she not pioneered the way and would have spent an uncomfortable second half of the bus trip with an overly full bladder.   

Luxury bus to Seville
We arrive in Seville before 2:00 P.M. and take a taxi to the Amadeus Hotel in the heart of the old city. The taxi driver takes a less than direct route to our hotel and Art follows his meandering route on Google maps and grumbles his displeasure. I surmise much of the meandering is due to one way streets barely wide enough to accommodate one vehicle.  Our hotel and its location in the picturesque back streets of Seville is sublime. Once again, the Rick Steves guide book has served us well and although Hotel Amadeus is a bit pricier than most of our hotels at approximately $140 Euros a night, it’s tiled and grated entry, Persian carpets, crystal decanters of complimentary port wine and herbal ice tea combined with it’s musical themed décor make it well worth the price. We deposit our luggage in our room and take note of the thick towels, crisp linens, bathrobes and slippers but we have sightseeing on our agenda and first head upstairs to the rooftop bar to inhale the view of the surrounding city rooftops and get our bearings. 

Hotel Amadeus, Seville
Gated entrance to Hotel Amadeus
Music themed Hotel Amadeus

The afternoon is hot but not unbearable and  we stop for tapas at an outdoor café on a busy street just above the Cathedral. The waiter suggests we order Tito de Verano, a cooling summer drink that is a mixture of chilled red wine and lemon soda; Seville’s version of Sangria. We share tasty and inexpensive tapas of grilled squid,  eggplant tapenade and fried potatoes.  Art orders a second Tinto de Verano and our bill is less than $20. Revived by the food and drink we begin the Rick Steves old city walk. It is cooler in the confines of the maze of narrow cobbled streets and we meander past private residences peeking through ornate iron gates into private jeweled gardens. Intimate squares are tucked inside the old city and the wisteria and other flowering plants sweeten and cool the air.
Seville  old city walk
Private garden in old Seville

Seville old city walk
Water pipes in the old city wall

A delightful street pavement cover for cables!
When we come to the Seville Cathedral, the third largest in Europe after Saint Peters in Rome and one in England, there is a 20 minute wait to enter. We are grateful when it is our turn to enter the cool interior of the immense gothic cathedral. Aside from being spectacularly ornate, Christopher Columbus is entombed here. We are not tempted to climb the three hundred feet to the bell tower but instead, enjoy the ambience of the shady cloistered courtyard before returning to the streets of Seville. 
Seville Cathedral
Gothic interior of the Seville Cathedral
Tomb of Christopher Colombus 
Altar piece

The Seville Cathedral Bell Tower
Cathedral cloister garden

Outside, elegant carriages and well groomed horses stomp with impatience in the afternoon heat waiting for a fare. I surmise that they are practicing their Flamenco steps.

Horse drawn carriages
Horse drawn carriages

Our hotel recommends a tapas restaurant around the corner and we enjoy wonderful Tapas at La Bartola accompanied by premium glasses of red wine. We share a tempura sushi rolls, eggplant towers and ricotta stuffed zucchini flowers. All is excellent and affordable. 

Eggplant tapas tower
Ricotta stuffed zucchini flowers

Art wants to find an ATM and is convinced that he will get the best rate at the Deutche Bank. We set out along the fashionable Avenue De La Constitucion. Street performers dance the Flamenco and musicians perform at every corner, their music clashing at times and all competing for an audience. Panhandlers sit with their bowls competing for sympathy tossed their way in the shape of a coin. Gypsy women thrust sprigs of rosemary towards me and I decline their offering, knowing that it ultimately will come with a price. We walk for miles getting lost and back tracking and I grow cranky and give Art’s Google mapping skills a bad review. Ordinarily Art will tell me that it is just an 8 or 12 minute walk from point A to point B and I usually reply cheerfully, “I can do that,” but tonight I decide that from here on, I will set a timer on Art’s mapping. This lightens the tension that has fallen between us and actually proves to be a rather fun game. After a few too many “time’s over,” we take a taxi to the food market.  The market is another trendy and upscale iron and glass paradise for the human gourmet but certainly not for the Iberian pigs. The haunches of many a pig hang from above, a dripping cup for the leaking fat and juices attached below each one. We watch a butcher with a gleaming knife give a waiter a lesson in cutting paper thin slices of the meat from the haunch. He weighs and rolls the slices arranging them on a platter for a waiting customer. 

Trendy food market across from the Triana district
The bridge to the Triana district
Triana district at night

From the market we cross the bridge into the Triana district, a recommended district for strolling and night life. Side walk cafes line the riverside promenade but we don’t find the district especially compelling and return to the old city on foot. Art continues to urge me on with Google map promises of short walks between points of interest. We stop for drinks at a corner restaurant and eventually meander back to our hotel.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Road Trip along the Algarve Coast

Tuesday, June 26, Road Trip along the Algarve Coast

We walk back to our hotel to recharge our phones and collect our clean laundry and take a taxi to Euro Rental Car. Art is miserable and anxious over my arrangement to rent a car for our drive south to the coast and he makes no “bones” about it.  Our intention is to spend the night in Salema and there is no direct public transportation. I reserved a car in advance and when I ask for a map, the woman behind the desk informs me that they have run out of maps. Unbelievable!. The man behind the counter assures us that the GPS will get us there easily and sets the GPS to English with our end destination, Salema. He also prints out Google map directions and we are on our way via countless roundabouts before we access the highway and Art begins to relax. The drive is to take us 3.5 hours and we expect to arrive at the coast around 8:00 P.M. The golden rolling hills are dotted with cork oaks and the countryside looks much like the stretch of California between King City and Santa Barbara. We see a few storks nesting in roosting platforms, telephone pole high along the highway. Our credit card is connected to a prepaid device attached to our windshield that  records the various tolls when we pass through. Every so often, we pass under an arch with multiple recording devices hanging down and our car beeps as another Euro or two are added to our bill. The GPS is excellent and eventually Art concedes that the drive is not so terrible after all.  We stop at designated rest stop to use the facilities and pick up snacks. It is not unlike any U.S.A. freeway rest stop. The countryside becomes steeper and is visually dramatic in the late afternoon light.

Salema Portugal
Salema Town
A peek of the beach

Navigating is a bit more complicated when we near the coast and Art is tiring from the drive and I wish that I could take over but he is to be the only driver on our contract. We head east toward Sagres, the furthest point of Europe and begin looking for the turn off to Salema. Although we make a few wrong turns, we are soon winding down toward the coast and arrive in Salema, a small sea side tourist town and fishing village. Art finds street parking and we walk a block to the village center and at the first hotel, inquire about a room. We are relived that there is availability and take the 3rd floor, 80 Euro room. Although the hotel boasts 3 stars, the room has seen brighter days but we do have an ocean view and aside from sleeping we will spend little time here. We stow our luggage and head downstairs to explore the town and choose a restaurant for dinner. A soccer game is playing in the hotel bar so our foray outside is slightly delayed but we are soon walking along the peaceful waterfront where we have half a dozen restaurants to choose from. We choose one owned by a German couple where we sit and sip glasses of wine and wait for our meals.  Art orders seafood pasta and I choose a goat cheese salad. Our meals are reasonably good.  After dinner we stroll along the one cobble stone street of the town and return to our hotel for the night.

Wednesday, June 27th. Sagre, The Furthest Point of Europe and onto Tavira. 

The included breakfast at our hotel is uninspiring. It is a beautiful sunny morning and we walk down to the harbor and turn right along the white sandy beach. The water is crystal clear but Atlantic Ocean cold as we walk along the edge of the gently lapping sea. The ocean is so still that we are tempted to go kayaking but other things are on our day’s agenda and we content ourselves with a peaceful beach walk along this pristine and dramatic beach. Yellow and orange sandstone cliffs rise dramatically above the beach. It is low tide and the slabs of rock that were underwater at high tide are carpeted with a lush green sea moss. The montage of colors; azure blue ocean, white sand, mossy green rocks and yellow and orange cliff faces make this beach one of the most dramatically beautiful ones I have had the privilege of making footprints on. 

Salema Beach
Salema Beach

Art, Salema Beach

Red cliffs and mossy rocks along Salema Beach

We walk to the end of the sandy crescent and retrace our path towards the slowly waking village. Although Salema used to be an active fishing village, there are now only half a dozen old salts still making their living fishing and trapping octopus. We walk towards the other end of the beach and watch a small tractor launch a fishing boat out to sea. Another fishing boat on the sand collects it’s nets with a mechanical clipping churn and I ask if I may take a photo? The weathered fisherman nods and I take a video of them rolling in their nets. Further up the beach rests another fishing boat but when I ask to take a photo the fisherman scowls and shakes his head. 

Octopus traps
Fishermen and their nets

Salema Town

We return to our hotel via the cobble stone shop lined street, check out and drive the 10 kilometers to Sagres, the most southwestern point of Europe. Parking at light house is jammed and souvenir and food wagons line the blustery path to the lighthouse. Nevertheless, the cliff side views are breathtakingly beautiful and we take full advantage of the photo ops before starting our drive back towards Tavira.

View from the Sagres lighthouse
Cliffs of Sagres

Studio Bongard at the Sagres lighthouse
Bongard fish sculpture

Art now has the hang of roundabouts and we are soon on the toll highway and the two hour drive to Tavira is easy. Although most of the drive is inland, we stop in Lagos for a marvelous fish lunch. 

The Algarve coastline
Lagos harbor

Fish restaurant in Lagos

We arrive in picturesque Tavira about 2:00 P.M, find street side parking and set off to the tourist office to find a room for the night. The day is insufferably hot and the woman at the IT tourist office is far from charming. She suggests a 4 star hotel and our inquiry about a few simpler hotels suggested in the Rick Steves guide book seems to displease her. She scrawls a few suggestions on a city map and we are off to investigate our options. All are close by but the first guest house is fully booked as well as one of the Rick Steves recommendation. We walk 10 minutes along the riverfront and come to the Marina Hotel which has a double river view room available for 80 Euros a night including breakfast. The room is lovely with a vintage tile bathroom and a balcony overlooking the river.

Tavira, a city built on two sides of the river
Our river front hotel
The view from our hotel balcony

We begin the Rick Steves Old City walk, stopping first in a Café so Art can watch a few minutes of the World Cup and to refresh with a sparkling orange drink and an espresso. The red tile roofs and secluded gardens of Tavira are lovely and we follow Rick’s suggested walk in the stifling heat of the afternoon. 

Rooftop view of Tavira
Tavira garden

The riverfront drive open to vehicles
Later tonight there will be music!

We come to a small plaza and I see the curtained entrance to a Fado Theatre, a recommended 30 minute experience that includes a 10 minute movie of the history of Fado and a 20 minute performance. We have fortuitously arrived 5 minutes before the 5:15 P.M. show and we pay the 8 Euros each and enter the theatre. (Art is not enthused and the guide book has the price listed at 5.5 Euros, not 8 so Art wears his pained expression throughout the tedious performance.) His sour mood does not lessen until we are back outside even with the post performance shot of port, included in the ticket price.  This is one of the few times where I feel that Rick Steves may have gotten it wrong and I am relieved the show is just 30 minutes long.

Fado Historia
Inside the Fado Historia

Tile rooftops of Avira

We return to our car and Art navigates the narrow streets to our hotel where we will have free parking until 9:00 A.M. tomorrow morning. Quick showers and our air conditioned room soon revive us and we head out to enjoy the evening. We sit for drinks at an outdoor café and as Art watches a few minutes of a soccer game, I find contentment in people watching and enjoying a glass of crisp Portuguese wine. It is still daylight when we cross the pedestrian bridge to search for a restaurant for dinner.

Pedestrian bridge in Tavira
Afternoon light in the old city

Restaurants and cafes

The outdoor tables at Aquasul Restaurant are full or reserved but we are fortunate that they have a single available table for 2 inside and we slip into our seats gratefully. The tuna Carpaccio with arugula is exceptional as is the chicken curry. We order individual glasses of wine and Art, anxious to sample more of the excellent food orders mushroom ravioli, a mistake of overindulgence. Dinner with 2 glasses of wine each is about 50 Euros or $60 including tax and tip. It is close to midnight by the time we climb the stairs to our hotel room.

Thursday, June 28th – The Saga of the Rental Car Return - Tavira

Because I am not authorized to drive the rental car, Art must return it today in Faro. Although Faro is only about 30 miles away, we both know that it will take the better part of the morning for him to return it at the Faro airport and catch a bus back to Tavira. Art graciously agrees to do this alone while I stay in town and catch up on writing and some Marty Magic business. Art drives off around 9:30 A.M. and I sit at a simple café near our hotel and write for a couple of hours, sipping on sparkling water to stay hydrated. 

A blissful morning writing at a riverfront cafe. 
It’s another sweltering day and I want to find something cooler to wear. For a seasoned traveler, I have not packed appropriately. The jeans that the hotel laundered in Evora are now too tight to wear comfortably and I want to blame it on the hot water and dryer and not on the extra calories that I have been consuming. This heat calls for a cool dress and set out along the strip of shops adjacent to our hotel and buy a knee length blue cotton dress and a light straw hat. Art texts me to inform me that the rental car return process sucks but that he thinks he is on the right bus back and will arrive in Tavira at 2:25 P.M. I text a reply that I will meet him at the bus station, a short walk from our river front hotel. 

Secluded cafe along the river
Boat docking in Avira

Understandably, he is not in the best of moods when he returns but after recharging at our hotel, we set out to enjoy the late afternoon in Tavira. We stop briefly in the cool of an Irish pub to watch a few minutes of the World Cup and then wanter onto an upscale riverfront café for cool drinks and tidbits of calamari. Everything is very affordable, making cafe and bar hopping fun and financially painless.  A house wine costs about 2 Euros ($2.50) and the premium wines about twice that amount. Tax and tip are included in the prices so by California standards, café hopping is extremely affordable and delightful in this picturesque town of whitewashed buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. As the afternoon turns to evening, street musicians and performers stake their territory on the bridge and in the plazas.

A balmy Tavira evening
We choose an inviting rooftop restaurant for dinner but the meal is disappointing although the semi sweet white wine with the chameleon on the label is excellent. It is after 10:00 P.M. as we walk back towards our hotel and we hear dance music. There is music in the Zocalo near our hotel. Art fast walks his pack and my purse back to our room and returns shortly, hand outstretched and pulls me onto the square where we join the other dancers. Although Polka is not our dance, we find quite a few songs that we can dance to in the welcome cool of the evening. We are beginning to understand the afternoon ‘siesta.’ Business are open between 10:00 A.M. – 1:30 -2:00 P.M. They then close for several hours, opening again at 4:00 P.M. or 5:00 P.M. and remaining open until 9:00 P.M. or 10:00 P.M. Restaurants, bars and cafes are open until midnight. Young children play and dance with their parents late into the evening. It is simply too hot in the mid-day to do much more than ‘siesta.’