Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's the end of the world as we know it

At the southwestern point of Europe is an area that was known by the Romans as Promontorium Sacrum - the end of the world. It kept its name for centuries until the Portuguese decided to venture out into the ocean where legend said that the water boiled, causing the white foam sailors could see in the distance. It was from the town of Sagres that Prince Henry the Navigator sent forth expeditions to discover and map the world. During our recent Algarve trip, we were in the area, so we went to check it out.

The site features a fifteenth century fortress that many claim housed a navigation school.

Aerial view of the peninsula stolen from the internet.

Whether or not there was actually a school may be open for debate, but they did have a giant compass.

Sagres is definitely not a calm harbor though. The fort sat at the top of windblown cliffs hundreds of feet tall. We were able to walk right to the edge.

Not heeding the warning.

When you're so close to the end of the world, I guess you have to go see it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Summer's not gone yet!

We decided one more trip to the Algarve before the summer was over was in order. Our friend Rebecca had two friends visiting her in Lisbon, so the five of us went down to the southern coast of Portugal for a beach weekend over Labor Day. We rented a three bedroom apartment at a great price, which also had a pool and hot tub. It was only about a 10 minute walk to get to the beaches, but we felt like we were in the country with the fields and horses next to the apartment!

The first day we went to a small beach town near where we were staying. You can see just how small the town is here

We enjoyed a nice lunch on the beach. Can't beat the view. Our go-to Portuguese beer, Superbock, made an appearance as well

The next morning we went to get breakfast in our town, and here is what I came across on our way. It is very typical to see a few old men sitting outside shops or cafes, but I don't think I'd ever seen that many sitting in a row! I asked their permission and snapped this pic

I like this shot of the boats pulled out of the harbor

While we were getting our coffee and pastries (at 10:45 in the morning) I noticed the three British guys behind us were drinking huge beers. I took this picture just to get a shot of their morning beverages. :)

That day we checked out another beach that we'd heard was in a beautiful setting. The dramatic cliffs and rocks were indeed a great spot to swim and play bocce ball

Oh, and we made a friend at the beach

We checked out an abandoned fortress at the top of some of the cliffs. It was a little spooky but the views were awesome

Can you see the two guys perched on the VERY edge of the cliff fishing? They were so high up - and standing right on the edge - it was unbelievable

Had to get some grilled fish at some point.....

Our last day there we decided to try out the beach right in the tiny town where we were staying. The water was perfect; clear and calm enough for us to just float and talk.

We finally understand why the Algarve is such a popular destination. I know we'll be back next summer for sure.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Moving Day

We came home yesterday to find a crane parked in front of our apartment. It turns out our top floor neighbors were moving in. I guess this is how you do it in Europe.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


To celebrate Hillary's 30th birthday, we went to Madeira, the small Portuguese archipelago 300 miles west of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean. Portuguese sailors sent out by Prince Henry the Navigator in 1418 discovered the islands after being blown off course during a storm. Portuguese colonization began only a couple years later.

Madeira today is a major vacation destination for Europeans. It has a great climate year-round and beautiful landscapes. We stayed on the main island in the capital, Funchal. We went for five days and stayed at an amazing hotel called The Vine.

Funchal feels like Lisbon set in the tropics.

We had hoped to rent a car, but because it was peak tourist time, there were none available. We made the best of our time, regardless, by visiting local beaches, touring the town, scuba diving, and eating great food. One great meal was in a restaurant called Armazem do Sal. As the name suggests if you plug it into Google Translate, the restaurant is set in an old salt warehouse. The food and ambience were great. The wine was even better.

We ate plenty of other great food during the trip, including espetada - grilled meat cooked on a laurel skewer over a fire. It was delicious.

Our hotel had a French restaurant, so we ate there to celebrate Hillary's birthday. Also very good.

But back to the island. Madeira has been home to a few famous people. Christopher Columbus lived there, but more recently, it's most famous local boy is Cristiano Ronaldo, the Real Madrid star.

It's also home to this crazy fruit hybrid that was delicious - pineapple-banana.

One afternoon during our stay, we went to Monte, a city up the mountainside from Funchal. The island's early governors used to go there to find cooler temperatures.

But since they wanted to get back to the city quickly, the locals built box cars that would slide back down the steep cobblestone streets. The only brakes were the shoes of the two drivers.

Ernest Hemingway said that the ride was the "most exhilirating experience" of his life. The ride is now just for tourists, but we took advantage. The cars have slowed down since the cobble stone streets were converted to asphalt, but it was still a fun ride. Enjoy the video.