Goodbye Portugal, So Long Atlantic.

We just finished a picnic lunch at Fortaleza de Sagres, a hulking fortress perched on the tip of the very lower left hand corner of Europe.  The fort was built by Prince Henry the Navigator in the 1400s at the start of the Age of Discoveries. Today, our last day in Portugal before we continue our own journey and head east to Spain, we visited the fort to enjoy ham and cheese (or in some cases nutella and peanut butter) sandwiches and cast our trip’s last view of the Atlantic.  As we stared down sheer cliffs at wind-churned waters, I compared my own wistfuleness about leaving this beautiful country to how Prince Henry and friends must have felt leaving on their own voyages, with little or no idea what they might find and not even any Nutella or after lunch ice cream to give comfort…

(No photos of the sandwiches themselves, but here are some happy sandwich eaters.)

We made our sandwiches this morning, before leaving the happy little house we have called home for the past 10 days.  The house sits about 30 miles north of here in a tiny little village called Vale da Telha.

(The house and my spot for morning coffee.)

Vale de Telha lies just outside Aljezure, a pretty small village itself, in the relatively sleepy northern Algarve.

We have loved our time here and will miss this place very much.

This may be because the Northern Algarve reminded us in some ways of home. The landscape in places brought back parts of Martha’s Vineyard.

And Brendan kept saying that this stand of trees in the center rotary of the village reminded him of a spot at Bethany Beach, DE. (??)

Or maybe we’re having such a hard time saying goodbye because of how much we loved our house, which more than any other place on the Trip really came to feel like a home.  Much like life at home, and though the house is named “Casa Sunshine,” not every moment was bright and sunny.  Poor William and Brendan came down with terrible head colds in the final days.  And Phoebe continued to struggle to find calm and aptitude for reasonable reaction to life’s disappointments, like the fact that no, one cannot have two ice cream cones after dinner.

But being in one place for more than a few days allowed us to nurse a cold in some peace and quiet and to do a better job of giving Phoebe the structure and consistency that help life’s disappointments not loom so large.  We spent lots of time doing lots normal, every day things, Portuguese style: making eggs and linguica for breakfast, buying fruits and vegetables at the local mercado, painting pictures and rocks brought home from the beach, and just lazing around in the pool out back.

These things were all wonderful, and a good break from the relentlessly foreign advenure of Morocco.

In the end though, what I think what made this stay the most special is how many hours we spent, as a family, getting completely and thoroughly in touch with the amazing Atlantic.  This is the ocean we know best from life at home, but in many ways it feels quite different from this side.  The sun sets rather than rises over its horizon.  And the waves are significantly more wild.
Over the last weeks, we played in those waves at beaches whose names have that lovely Portuguese shushh–Odeceixe, Monte Clerigo, Ponta Ruivas, and Arrifana.  We cheered each other on in our different pursuits: as William crushed it on the short board he rented (he’s asked for his own board for his birthday, which we’ll celebrate at a surf camp in Sri Lanka); as Brendan and I held our own (for the most part) in the surf line up; as Holly and Coco slowly conquered the art of the boogie board; and as Phoebe did a lot of just jumping and dancing into the surf.

(Hard to capture these moments without a water and sand proof camera.  We were having so much fun we only thought to pull out the Go Pro on the last day and even then didn’t quite figure out how to use it.)


On our last morning, I set the alarm for super early so I could head to the beach for one final surf.  (William and Brendan were still down for the count with their colds.). I’d be lying if I said I set any records.  In fact, it may have been my worst session of this stay.  But all of the saltwater and pride I swallowed trying (and failing) for one last Arrifana right-hander was well worth being out there that one last time.

(Watching the waves on my way down to the beach. The specks are other surfers and the waves MUCH bigger than they look.)

(Afterwards, having been punished by the waves and licking my wounds on the beach, I sat on my board and managed a final shot.)

Sintra to Aljezur

Last night’s sunset in Aljezur. We left Sintra by train yesterday, arriving in downtown Lisbon to rent a car – a Mercedes van, no less. We crossed the Vasco de Gama bridge on our way south out of the city, as Alex read about the legendary Portuguese explorer’s own exploits around the world. As you know, and I learned yesterday, he was the first European to arrive in India, paving the way for Portugal’s domination of the exploration and colonization businesses of the 16th Century.  And, by a very, VERY long extension, our own exploits there in a couple of months.

Portugal reminds me of California in many ways. The hills of Sintra were filled with salty fog for most of our stay; eucalyptus and cypress trees add to the feel of Monterey. If Monterey had really sweet castles.

As we headed south of Lisbon, things got hot and dry and hilly again. The cypress trees were replaced by pines and oaks, similar to Sonoma or the Sierra foothills. Hippies and surfers are everywhere. We arrived in Aljezur and turned west for the coast and our rental house. The trees thinned and the land began to resemble Point Reyes, and the mental picture that I have of Australia. Where a California Mission would be, Aljezur has its own hilltop castle, believed to have been inhabited since the Iron Age. I am so dragging the kids there and, together, we will learn when the Iron Age was.

William and I hustled to rent surfboards and wetsuits in town last night before the shop closed and I’m glad we did. Arrifana is a dramatic but very popular beach just a few minutes from the house, but Holly, William, and I were able to get in the waves by 8:30 this morning for a couple of hours before the hordes arrived (Huge thanks to Alex and Coco and Phoebe for going the market and fish store while we surfed!  Sardines and sausage for din tonight). Lots of fun and we’ll all head back to the beach for a pre-dinner outing this eve.  The crowds should have thinned by then.

We will be in New Zealand later in this trip and several people have warned us that we won’t want to leave. I already have a strong suspicion that Aljezur may beat NZ to that punch.

For the sake of symmetry, here is this morning’s sunrise:


Praia Grande

Took a day trip from Sintra to Praia Grande, where the cool and grey weather is keeping things quiet. William and I were thoroughly humbled by the waves, but Phoebe has sniffed out a very fun arts and crafts table outside the Biblioteca de Praia. She has asked to come back tomorrow.

Phoebe hasn’t loved every moment of this trip…

Viewing yet another chapel in yet another Portuguese palace.

“How many of these are there??”

So’s it’s nice to find a cultural opportunity that really speaks to her.

The other kids liked it too.