Faro’s Charm and Port In Porto

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We disembarked from the Tangier to Tarifa ferry looking like we felt: exhausted. Since the next day was going to be complex and long, we stopped by the super mercado (market) to buy ingredients for dinner and the road trip. Omelets were the main, and only, course planned.

It took more than one drive through to finally find a parking space. The next day was a national holiday (May 1) and the place was packed. Jordan and I stayed in the car and waited for what felt like an eternity for The Kids to get back with the eggs and some road trip food (French bread and salami were becoming a staple).

Trudged up the stairs to the apartment and I was packing for the next day when I heard an “Oh no!” Now, granted, our clothing (washed the night before with a little dish soap in the washer which is risky) wasn’t dry on the makeshift clotheslines (my portable one worked out well in this instance), but that couldn’t have warranted this exclamation. Poor Kelly had picked up a half dozen hard boiled eggs instead of fresh for the omelet. She felt awful, but her husband, my son, rose to the occasion making us an elegant fusion-inspired dinner that even Jordan enjoyed. All was well. And, the clothes were just about dry the following morning. Did I mention that our beach apartment, which was not exactly Mediterranean warm, didn’t have central heating? So glad there was at least a space heater for Jordan’s and my room.

Illustrious and organized as an army of ants, we were packed up and ready to rock ‘n
roll by 9 a.m. Jordan, all along on this trip, had deemed herself as The Seating Planner so there is frequent controversy for me to always be sitting down next to her. Since I was getting ready for the day, I didn’t have time to have my breakfast at the same time as she was eating. Other than some mild histrionics, we managed to pile ourselves and luggage back into our rental car to drive on to Sevilla so we could return the car.

The drive was uneventful with scenery that included a lot of energy producing windmills and a large black cutout bull on a small hill. We returned the car, got a cab, and headed to the bus station where we already had tickets for the 4 p.m. journey to Faro, Portugal. We arrived in Sevilla with about 3 hours to spare.

Rather than lug around our suitcases, we went in search of lockers at the bus station. This was something I have never done, and it was obvious that I had certainly never worked the Spanish system of paying for a locker. Good God Almighty. Not only did we (Christopher, primarily) have to fit almost everything (there was no way in hell we could get his pack to fit, and there was also no way in hell he would let us pay the additional €5 for another locker), but the instructions for paying for the “key” to the locker was so convoluted, that I was enormously relieved when a kind, older (like my age older) Spanish man showed me that the “key” was actually a small dime-sized slotted coin which had already fallen into the tray when I paid for the locker which this man found for me. With a lot of shoving, The Kids got the locker to shut and lock.

We headed across the street to a comfortable and modern food court and settled into a coffee shop with free “wee fee” to have a beer, or in my case, a cappuccino. After an hour or so of catching up on correspondence and the news, Jordan had had it. She wanted a juice, as in NOW. I took her over to the McDonalds across the aisle from the coffee shop and after tussling with the less than helpful Spanish girl over getting Jordan a cup and a straw (like this is going to put McDonalds into bankruptcy!), with glass juice container and straw in hand, we headed back to the coffee shop. The guy behind the counter in there had an attitude as well, so it was apparently a great hardship to ring up a sandwich or a new “wee fee” code as it expired every 30 minutes. Were these people pissed off because they had to work on a holiday or were they always like this?

Happily, The Kids, with Jordan in tow, left me alone and went off in search of a playground. I was quite content to have a break for awhile.

When they returned, and Jordan was satiated from the playtime, we hit the bus station for the ride to Faro. Much to Jordan and my disappointment, this bus line did not offer us goodie bags as the bus to Granada had over a week before. Nonetheless, with iPad in hand, Jordan settled into the 3 hour bus trip. That is definitely the maximum time a 3 year old should be on a bus, believe me.

Our hotel in Faro was comfortable and in a good location. There was a great breakfast as well as a little cafe setup off the main lobby. This is where I met my new Portuguese love of all time: Orange Cake.

Spain, Morocco, and Portugal have orange trees everywhere. Delectable cake is made from this sweet and healthy fruit. That is probably the only thing healthy about the moist cake: the Vitamin C content! I only had one slice in the day and a half we were there in Faro, but the memory stayed with me until I found it again in Lisbon a week later.

Faro was surprisingly delightful. And I had never even known about this interesting little city beforehand. I think that is one of the delicious things about traveling off the beaten path, the taste of new places never gets old. We found a quiet little pizza place for dinner and survived yet another dinner with a 3 year old who made us sit in certain chairs, again, while always being sure her Grammie was close at hand. Quite sweet, really. Just that there are times when it is more convenient to be seated differently, but that’s our problem, apparently, not hers.

We took a long walk all about the old town the day after we arrived. Climbed the bell tower for the view. Saw the chapel of children’s bones which was to memorialize the children who were killed in a devastating earthquake and tsunami which hit Portugal in 1755 and not only wiped out much of Faro and other coastal towns, but also destroyed half of Lisbon. Terribly sad story yet a very poignant gesture, if not somewhat a bit eerie, to honor the kids who died.

After the old town church we saw an open door of a large warehouse looking building and peeked inside. Two older men (yep, around my age) were talking amidst a large open space filled with Portuguese tile. I asked if we could come in to look and he said yes, these tiles were for sale. He also did restoration work and had been there, in this shop, for 40 years, having been originally from Porto, which he preferred over Faro. He turned out to be charming. Christopher found an 18th century tile which he purchased, and I found one that was only 30-40 years old with a hand painted picture of a young boy strumming a guitar. He wrapped it and charged me €5 (about $7-8). I put it into my bag and continued to mill around looking at his craftsmanship. I reached into my bag to pull out my iPad so I could take a photo only to feel the tile slip out of my bag with the iPad and hear that dreaded sound of the tile fall flat on the concrete floor and break. The shop owner heard me moan and told me not to worry, that he would replace it for me free of charge, which he did.

Soon after, Christopher and Jordan corralled a small crab they found on the sea wall and I saw massive white storks in alcoves on a rooftop in wild looking enormous nests. But most importantly, Jordan found a playground and a little French girl to see-saw and slide with until her parents had to leave and Jordan cried to see her go.

We wandered into the area of downtown that reminded us of the pedestrian-only Pearl St. Mall in Boulder, Colorado (where the kids and I lived for several years as they were growing up). The unemployment rate is high and the restaurants and stores are nearly empty here. We later found a family restaurant where we were the only customers for most of our meal. The food was good and we learned that they had been in business for 30 years as we met the owners and the host translated for us. I found it sad to walk such quiet streets as they were a stark economic indicator. Jordan, on the other hand, was nonplussed by it all and began practicing for her upcoming Cheryl Tiegs-like modeling career.

I had become friendly with the young women working the counter of the cafe in the Santa Maria hotel lobby. One young woman was Russian and we spoke of our shared heritage. She confirmed what Christopher and I had mentioned during our walk, that we had heard people speaking Russian and even thought we smelled Russian cooking which was so familiar to us from my grandmother, Lola, cooking Russian favorites for me as well as for my kids growing up. I learned from this young woman that there were a lot of Ukrainians living in Faro, not that many Russians as the employment situation in Russia was better than in Portugal. I liked this girl’s spirit a lot as she asked me very open and pointed questions about my family’s history which is actually, due to some extraordinary recent events, at the forefront of my brain lately. She gave me a bit more confidence that it was a story worth telling.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that the Portuguese language is like none other I’ve heard. There are a lot of ‘ssssh’ sounds and it is a very melodic language. Someone told me it was very easy to write poetry/lyrics in Portuguese, hence the popularity of Fado music. There is very little similarity to Spanish. “Hola” is heard but, for instance, “Thankyou” is “Obrigada” which is no where near “Gracias.” I loved how that sounded so much that I said it every opportunity I had whenever the time was relevant. “Obrigada” just rolled off my tongue so easily!

The following day when preparing to fly into Porto on Ryanair, it was imperative that we consolidate our baggage so we were not charged additional baggage fees on the flight. Since we were only allowed one carryon, I packed my daypack into my backpack easily. My luggage came in at 28 kilos when the max was 30, which was a close call. But when we were going through security, we had to swap things around to where I was carrying one of their laptops and Jordan had to attempt carrying my backpack, which was insane and very frustrating for her. As we neared the measurement basket, somehow I managed to whisk her off with me into the boarding line and bypass the basket so there would be no embarrassing questions. I don’t think my backpack would have easily slipped in and out of the basket let alone for them to believe it was the carryon of a 3 year old. They are quite strict at Ryanair. Oh, the things we do to save money. So stressful sometimes, but usually well worth it when you are a budget traveler. Afterall, if we didn’t use cost cutting measures, we wouldn’t be able to travel as much. However on this trip, we used more taxis than I’ve ever used in the past and that was a huge lifesaver for me as well as for Jordan. Totally worth every penny.

We boarded the flight, Jordan was next to me and her parents were several rows ahead of us. As soon as the seatbelts were secured and the engines were revving for takeoff, the little voice beside me said, “Grammie, I really need to use the bathroom.” Knowing what the answer would be, I asked anyway and was shot down abruptly by the crisp British voice of the flight attendant, “Absolutely not now, madam.” Sheez, I was just asking for my granddaughter so don’t bite my head off, ok? I didn’t say that but told Jordan she had to wait it out until we took off and the seatbelt light goes off. Then we could both squeeze into the tiny onboard lavatory together where she would ask me to please not flush until she was out of there as the loud suction flush scares the bejeebies out of her. This was a common occurrence on all the restroom breaks we took together: I had to go first, then she’d go. Our bonding experience knew no boundaries.

We took the Metro from the airport into Porto getting off at the Trinidad station. From there, it was a half mile of narrow sidewalks, cobblestones, old men and homeless people in a city park, all uphill. Did I mention we were walking? Then, we had 3 flights of stairs to climb up to our apartment. We selected this place as it was much less expensive than others listed and meant it was not in the center of town. It was also one of the strangest setups for a rental apartment. The owner lived there but obviously lived somewhere else when she rented the place out on AIRNB. We were staying in a nice person’s apartment, which, she mentioned in a note, was her grandparent’s previous home. As she was making improvements, renting it out to travelers helped her financially. Her clothing hung in closets, her books were in the hallway bookcase, her spices were in the pantry. There was even a half bottle of wine left in the fridge! (Alas, no central heating here, either, but at least there was a better clothes line setup.)

We had two full days to enjoy the city.

In Porto is a lovely square with magnificent buildings and one of the loveliest bookstores I’ve ever seen up the hill. We were reprimanded not to take photos inside, but of course I snuck in a couple anyway. Wanted to buy Jordan a book there but there were no books that had Portuguese-Engish translations, as I’ve found in Italy. Not far from there is a famous bell tower, a park with a green lake, and an outdoor cafe which Jordan and I hung out at while her energetic parents walked to the top of that tower. No thanks.

Later that evening, it was here that Kelly asked us the dreaded question, away from Jordan, in a hushed whisper, “Have you guys seen Pinky (a pink bear), Gib (a baby monkey I had just bought her on Gibraltar), or Tortuga (a turtle from last year’s trip to Costa Rica)?” Apparently, back in Faro, Kelly had packed Jordan’s little “friends” whom she slept with every night, and Jordan unpacked them putting them under the blankets of the bed in their room. They were inadvertently left behind. Uh oh. Our brave little Jordan had one turtle left (Tortuga II) to sleep with and Kelly was great with explaining that her friends had decided to stay in Faro a little longer. Jordan missed her friends but was able to go to sleep without too much trouble. Kelly was emailing with the staff at the Santa Maria hotel about whether the stuffed animals had been found but so far, no luck.

Porto is a beautiful city. Even with all the hills I had to climb, it is a vibrant, colorful city with the loud heartbeat of working class people who are proud to be Portuguese and who are a kind and gentle people. Everyone I came into contact with, that is except the young woman who was kicking us out of the Se Cathedral during our second visit because it was the lunch hour closing, were kind. We even had to pay admission to see this particular section of the cathedral, the cloisters, which is where I thought the 1500 pounds of silver altar was located and were still kicked out. Turned out it was in the main cathedral that was free and where we had been the day before. It’s so difficult to keep track of all the little details such as this. However the cloisters held exquisite examples of the infamous Portuguese blue tile work, John the Evangelist’s sarcophagus, and amazing artwork, so that was worth the entrance fee. But, really, must they close down at 1:00 p.m. on the nose each day? There were some very disappointed tourists outside the enormous doors, but we did get in a look of the silver altar which was in dire need of some silver polish.

As we left the cathedral and started walking down the steps leading to the riverfront, there was an old woman (much older than me, this time!), with her oxygen tube in her nose, leaning out her window up on the 3rd or 4th floor watching us, or actually watching all the tourists and travelers with an amazing close proximity to the cathedral. I asked if I could take a photo of her (using mime) and Jordan and the woman also communicated with looks and gestures and as we were walking away, the old woman blew her a kiss. Very sweet. Universal language.

There was a torrential downpour and we took refuge in another church just steps from the cathedral. This one was a museum, however, featuring huge blown up photos of Easter parades with tortured Jesus figures and somber looking religious pilgrims walking with heads cast down looking at their feet. Big opulent altars were also featured with model life sized bleeding and punctured Jesus statues in a variety of tortured poses. It was unsettling and I steered Jordan away from these bloody looking mannequins. Oddly enough, this church/museum was actually free.

Naturally, Jordan had to use a bathroom and to my surprise when I asked the very bored looking young man working reception, there was actually a restroom around the corner from the back room where I had just been a few minutes prior. It was the first time I have ever gone to the bathroom in a church. Of course Jordan and I took turns using the facility. (As we were leaving I noticed an older man sitting at a table with a ledger and pen furiously writing and looking very stern. No wonder the bored young man at the front desk appeared nervous.)

The rain tapered off enough to keep walking. As I didn’t make the river cruise in Sevilla because The Kids wanted to see the bull fight that day (and Christopher bought my ticket for the next day) I really wanted to be sure I went on the river cruise in Porto. After a weird little lunch (awkward moment when staff made some customers begrudgingly scooch over so we could share their table) in a cafe near the famous Porto square next to the river, where Christopher booked the boat in the rain.

On the boat was a cozy cabin with tables and chairs and a bar setup. We walked between the deck and the cabin, depending on how hard it was raining, for the next hour. It was a memorable cruise with 7 enormous bridges in view as we sailed from one direction to the other. Jordan took to “swabbing (really drying chairs with a tissue) the deck” so there would be dry places to sit, which was cute and endeared herself to the shipmate who was from an Eastern European country and missed his 10 children terribly. (Due to the language barrier, it may or may not have been 10 kids, but that’s what I got out of the conversation that Kelly and I couldn’t understand.) Christopher spent most of the sailing sitting out on the deck, in the rain, under his good thick rain jacket with hood. There were also about eight other passengers. A couple and a small group who appeared to be traveling together from maybe Germany (they also couldn’t understand the Eastern European shipmate and one woman, in particular, had the funniest dazed look as she stared listening to him, which cracked Kelly and I up).

Then all hell broke loose.

Kelly, Jordan, and I had been sharing a table starboard side when I got up to look out the glass door at the view from the stern end. Jordan also got up to follow me. In those same moments, the captain (in the upper cab) decided to turn the boat around in the area where the river meets the Atlantic ocean. I glanced outside just at the moment when I witnessed a very large wave come crashing against the windows of the cabin very close to where I was standing. The boat was getting hit broadside by the wave and I was losing my footing and balance while seeing Jordan skidding around behind me unable to grasp anything. Glass was flying and I could hear the sound of it breaking. I grabbed Jordan, as the shipmate grabbed me as he held tight to the door jamb to keep all 3 of us from falling.

After the boat righted itself, we saw that dozens of brandy sniffers and wine glasses had fallen off a high shelf and broken by the chair I had just been sitting in. Glad I moved or I would have been clobbered. And if Jordan had been skidding closer to the bar, she would have been hurt.

Jordan seemed unfazed by the event except that it had been exciting. It was so exciting for us, too, that the next stop after disembarking was the Sandeman Port Winery on the other side of the river. We walked at a fast clip across the bridge where I noticed there were padlocks chained in several places triggering the memory of once reading that people did this to proclaim love for one another.

Sandeman’s winery was very cool with the famous brand of the black caped figure with the wide brimmed hat a famous logo capitalized since 1790. After the organized tour, we happily sampled the two varieties of their port wine.

This, along with some french fries at an outdoor cafe, made it easier to catch a bus for “home” and make that familiar walk up the hill to the apartment. Everywhere we were noticing young people dressed in what we called the Harry Potter look. It was graduation time which made finding a restaurant that night impossible in our neighborhood, and god knows we looked.

First we went toward the church where there was a bazaar of some sort. An older Portuguese woman (again, probably my age when I say “older”) saw me taking photos of the exterior and approached me with much excitement. She insisted that I go inside the church to see something (again the universal language of hand gestures and speaking in tongues). As I walked inside, I saw the church was packed with parishioners standing in the pews murmuring prayers led by the priest at the altar.

There was an amazing and wonderful smell of flowers and it was then that I saw why the woman wanted me to go inside. There were bouquets of colorful flowers hanging everywhere with garlands strung from high columns, and an amazing centerpiece in the middle of this large church with what must have held thousands of blossoms. Impressive. I wish I could have taken more photos but I felt like I was intruding in someone’s home while they were having a personal conversation.

Back outside, Jordan and a little girl were “sizing each other up” by walking back and forth opposite one another. They looked pretty funny.

After walking several blocks, and even standing inside a restaurant for several minutes, we realized the restaurants we found in the neighborhood were packed and we didn’t want to wait. So, we headed for the grocery store near the apartment. They closed the market for the night just as their last customer was leaving and Christopher was headed for the entrance. We went a few more feet up the street wondering aloud what we had left in the apartment to eat, which wasn’t much since we were leaving the next day, and found an Asian market which was like hitting the mother lode! Top Ramen packages flung in the cart! Soy sauce! Scallions! Frozen pork dumplings! Kelly made us one of the best meals we had had on this trip! Even the fuss-pot Jordan ate with great enthusiasm.

Kelly and Christopher had earlier in the late afternoon gone to look for replacement stuffed sleep friends for Jordan, finally finding two the right size in a thrift store. One was an elephant and the other a seal. After a good wash and quick dry near the space heater, they were introduced to Jordan who gladly brought them to sleep with her that night.

We were now ready to move on to our final stop in this adventure. We would take a train to Lisbon the following morning.

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2 thoughts on “Faro’s Charm and Port In Porto

  1. The twins are here, so have had little time to catch up with your travelogue and photos. This leg of your trip sounded and looked just wonderful. Great photos! I’ve been to Porto, but not to Faro. Your stamina certainly has increased since you left the States, and your legs will certainly be stronger when you return. The stairs and hills killed me in my 20s, so much respect to you, Vivian. Lisbon/Lisboa is next, eh? Lovely city.

    Glad you took the photos at the book store…it was just lovely. Jordan looks happy as well. Can you get the kids to take some of you? Have to go pick up the girls. They are window-shopping in Puerto Vallarta (my idea of a nightmare), so I opted out. Can’t wait for your next post and pix.

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