I celebrated another big milestone while living and learning to be Portuguese, my birthday. This is my segundo aniversário (second birthday), I now consider myself two in Portuguese years, and my language skills in Portuguese are at about that level.
Instead of a party or going out, the citizen and I decided to visit Lagos in the Algarve. The Algarve is the southern coast of Portugal and eventually it meets up with Spain. It is the Miami Beach, the South of France, the Cancun of Portugal. Summer it is packed with sun seeking partiers from all over Europe. Some never leave. A lot of history is buried under those condos, restaurants and faux pubs. Our friend Ana had been telling us that Lagos was different, it still had an old city and much of its rich history was still standing, plus it was warmer than our little village. OK, we were getting on the birthday bus south.
The regional buses are just deluxe. Wi-Fi, movies and videos on the very nice polite screens scattered among the plush rows of adjustable seats. They even take rest stops, our bus stopped at a very pleasant mellow highway oasis. I was amazed, even the highway stops have “extras” that make life pleasant. Ours had awnings over the picnic area and even over the car park! That is government taking care of the people. Three buses and six hours later (244 miles or 292 kilometers) from home we were standing In front of our gorgeous hotel.
Credit to the citizen, he conjures magical travel deals and regularly creates 3 or 4 day trips that are amazing fun, interesting and budget minded from his computer. For Lagos he really delivered the goods. The Tivoli Beach Club is a three minute walk from the bus station, on the edge of the old city, within walking distance to everything. It is an old historic estate or something that has been completely renovated into an upscale beautiful resort type hotel. Huge fireplace in the lobby, heated indoor pool, beautiful gardens. And we are staying there for less than the price of a dinner for two. Along with us were flocks of golfers all in passionate competition for something called the “Badger Cup.” They seemed to like the bar and the breakfast buffet.
Lagos has a very long and shady history. Phoenicians, Greeks, Moors, Muslims and Romans all called this place home at one time or another. Prince Henry the Navigator lived in Lagos and used it to stage his Age of Discoveries, where he got on his not so big ships and went and discovered things. Like gold, and uh, slaves. Lagos has the distinction of having the first slave market and it is still there to gawk at. It was the beginning of the end for poor King Sebastião , at Lagos he and all the noblemen sailed off on a crusade that went terribly wrong. Everyone died, including Sebastião and soon Portugal became part of Spain, much to the distress of the people in Portugal. Not many kids in Portugal are named Sebastião and his statues just aren’t as nice as the other kings.
Now invaded by pleasure seekers, Lagos is full of bars, restaurants and trinket shops aimed at enticing every euro from your pocket. The signs advertising a well built Guinness pointed us to a good time. Not having had a well built Guinness for over a year the citizen was eager to hit the pubs. And there were plenty of those green signs to keep us busy.
I love pub hopping when I am visiting a new city. You meet people and not only find out about them, but the city and the best places to eat. We met a cozy family of Tippy (the Granny), Lance (the bar-owner son) and Karris (the very bossy diva) 11 year old daughter all drinking under one of the Guinness signs. We pulled up a bench and they kept us very amused by stories of 25 years of life in Lagos. We also met Americans! A very cool couple in a wonderful Indian restaurant, They were “travelers” but home was the San Juan Islands a ferry ride from Seattle. One of the best places to live in the U.S., wonderful people. So laid back, smart and friendly. If you are reading this, come and visit, we loved you!
Three days spent eating killer breakfasts with golfers, swimming in the heated pool and relaxing in the Jacuzzi. Then for fun throwing weird food to the hotel cats from our balcony, we would stroll the narrow streets of the old city soaking up the history. One day we rode the city bus to two beaches. The autocarro to the beaches took us into the suburbs where I saw the “modern” Algarve. I could have been in Miami, I saw places very much like Coral Gables, South Beach, North Miami Beach and yes, even Kendall. Out of the corner of my eye I swear I saw Gloria Estefan.
The first beach was at the end of a shabby cul de sac. The amazingly dramatic Praia D. Ana.
From the top, the beach is directly 12 stories below. Rock formations are scattered close to the beach. A sign warns of falling rocks and rocks are scattered below to prove it. The sea here looks like it means business; in a place like this I realize the ocean will always win the contest called beach rejuvenation where local government try to replace sand, only having to do it the next year.
The bus comes and after avoiding falling rocks and enjoying the raw beauty of tall cliffs and pounding waves, we wove through the ruas of “New Lagos” to a big beach, Praia do Porto de Mós. This is the people’s beach. Cafés, surfing, fishing, sunning, water craft rental; a big beach with something for everyone and don’t be alarmed by the rows of McMansions being built around it. The citizen tried to hike, but soon was next to me on the café sundeck soaking in the hot sun with a cocktail, enjoying being warm.
There were surfers on one side, fishermen on the other. People walking on the sand with their dogs blissfully off leash dashing from them to the surf and back, glad the summer people were gone and they had their freedom back. Two cafes for relaxing over a cocktail or for a full meal with plenty of parking for the non bus user. The star of the show is always the endless ocean, a myriad of colors from light green at the sand to deep blue on the horizon. The sun glittered on the waves and was warm enough for us to strip down to our tee shirts, plainly heaven.
Ana was right, Lagos is a jewel among the wall of condos that line the Algarve, and while I don’t think I would care to visit in the summer as I live in my own little summer paradise, the citizen and I have found the perfect place in Portugal to flee to when it gets a little too much like winter here.
Going home to our casa was easy, same deluxe big buses, sunshine greeted us when we arrived back in the village. Some people like things for their birthdays, I’ll take a good memory anytime!
For more information on Lagos visit these sites:
Our Hotel, the Tivoli:
All photos by Kevin Aplin