If Spain is like Canada and the US in standard of living then Portugal is like Mexico. Having said that, it is a country in transition. Many buildings are in ruins but often you can see an old decrepit building and a new one right beside it. Their highway system is not as well developed as Spain’s. There are toll roads which are good but the secondary roads would be equivalent to very bad rural roads in Canada.
In the Algarve, which is the Hawaii for the Brits and Germans, the real-estate market is quite active. The Algarve is Portugal’s Costa del Sol but much better. We stayed in a small town called Lagos at the western end of the Algarve and loved it. The ‘old town’ is like any other historic part of a town but this one was small and quite easily walked. Narrow streets once again prevail. Once we took a wrong turn and ended up in the old town whilst driving in the car. Cars were parked on the left side of the street and there was a high wall on the right. How John managed to get the car between a van and the wall was a small miracle. I think only a sheet of paper would have fit between the two mirrors. We have noticed that a lot of the cars have side view mirrors that fold into the car and we can understand why. They would be so easily clipped if the other driver was not super careful. Lagos is way more open and there are lots of places to walk. We walked to the beach and they have a beautiful 8 km long beach with lovely white sand and wide enough that you can find a spot to park yourself even in the height of summer.
Lagos is divided by the river. On one side is the lovely beach and on the other side are omminent cliffs. Whilst in Lagos, we took a boat tour around the cliffs and bays. These are sandstone monoliths carved out by the action of the waves. Very interesting and at times a very tight squeeze when going in and out of the bays. The next day, we drove to see the cliffs from the top. A very interesting and different view. In between many of the cliffs are secluded beaches. Some have steps down to them. One had 255 steps. The problem is, what goes down, must come up. We were told that some of these secluded beaches were nude beaches but couldn’t tell from where we were. Just to let everyone know, the women here do not go topless on the beaches. Could be a different thing in the summer but we never saw one.
Drove out to the very end of the road which went to the second most western point in Europe – Cabo Da Vincente. From there, nothing but ocean. Whilst in Lagos, there was a replica of a Portuguese galleon there. Only about 60 feet long and 20 feet wide. Can you imagine those explorers like Vasco de Gama and their crew setting out in something that small and going past that point not knowing if they were going to fall off the edge of the earth or not.
We learned that Lagos’s main claim to fame is that they were the sight of the first slave market in Europe and the building still stands. Not sure if that is something to make claim to. Most of the slaves were from Africa but it was getting difficult to find enough suitable ones so that is one of the things they were looking for, ie another source of slaves, when they set out to discover new lands.
Driving to Lisbon, we decided to take the country roads. At times, I thought I was driving in Australia. Eucalyptus trees were the predominant vegetation, dry grass for the underbrush, vast tracks of ranch land with only a few signs of cattle or sheep and a 2-lane road with no shoulders. However, we arrived safely thanks to our GPS and are about to embark on the last leg of our journey – LISBON.