Alvor. It all started here.
A quaint little village that is a hop, skip, and a jump away from the faster paced city of Portimao, Alvor nestles itself in just the right spot; the beach. Filled with crowds of Irish folk who love to party, and really fun guys like our host, Kurt, this town has it going on.
Kurt or Kurial as some call him, landed in this village to retire after his professional life in Germany. On this trip, I’m taking the time to ask our hosts or hostesses why they participate in Couchsurfing. When I asked him, this is what he said in not so many words because let me tell you, this man has lots of words.
“At 68 years old, I have been an active Couchsurfing member for only 10 years. I love it! It’s amazing! To meet people from all cultures in this life and welcome them into my life, home, village, trust circle… it’s the best. I once had a friend of mine who is a policeman ask me why I give these random strangers a key to my house. He asked me if I’m worried about them stealing all my belongings. I said great! Let them take it all so I can get new stuff! I’m a very trusting person. Always have been and always will be.”
I relate to that Kurt. 100%. We talked about how interesting it is to read someone’s Couchsurfing profile, really digging into their lives and what they value. Their interests, life mission, the references left by others who have encountered them, all of it. He mentioned how the website is changing and how some younger people are now using it as a free place to stay, shower, use wifi, and move along. No references, no details in their profile = no staying with Kurt. He gets between 5-10 requests per day so to weed out the ones who are not really in tune with the Couchsurfing experience is easy for him. I felt honored he chose us as two of his 12 visitors of the year. He said he might have to make exceptions this year because there are just so many interesting people wanting to stay with him. He is setting his quota now for 20 visitors this year. This is Kurt.
And this is the beach that Kurt loves to show people like us. We walked past all the Irish and English who vacation here, through some caves, around some coves that you can only walk through at low tide, and arrive here. Magic.
Before we discuss more of this magic beach, we must discuss the culture found in the Algarve. Our first night in town, Kurt insisted we try the local homemade Italian pasta at a little place called, Ciao Baby. We were starving after our bus ride from Sevilla. Perfect. It is obvious Kurt can pull some strings here. In a packed restaurant, with a good sized line for a wait, we were waived in and told it will be 5 minutes. The wine, pasta, and service was a fantastic introduction to Alvor.
From authentic Italian, we then strolled down the street to this Irish pub. Where we saw these guys. The Merchants. A real deal Irish band straight from Ireland on their 10 day holiday. This was special. Apparently, we caught them on their last night in town. The pub was filled with Irish lads and lassies. My Grandpa Curran would be in heaven here. I’m pretty sure all of my musical talent stems from him. He has been singing my whole life. I made sure to call him and tell him I experienced this. He told me to embrace the magic of the Irish. So, we did.
Back to the beach…
It is sublime. After re-visiting this strip of beaches during the lowest tide we were able to walk into this ravishing place. Canico. Thank you for the freshest fish and to our server Joao (John), for the recommendation of rose from his hometown in the Alentejano. Could this get any better?!?
Well, Kurt mentioned Michael’s Bar. He practically begged me to come sing karaoke. After all, he said to me, “There are really only two languages in the world. Smiles and music. There is no need to interpret either. Shannon, you are blessed to have both.” After Canico I had just enough liquid courage. So, we went, to karaoke, in Alvor, filled with Irish and English and Portuguese and Spanish and us. What in the world do I sing?
Bob Seger. Just what this place needed! Some old time rock and roll. It was fun. People clapped. I got some high fives, BUT, it was clear I needed to ramp the energy level up even more. I then took requests. Lots of Queen lovers in the crowd. So I sang Queen and Roy Orbison and our host Kurt’s favorite song in the entire world, I Can See Clearly Now. I made sure to reference the magic of Alvor in that one. I think I could have stayed here forever. Alas, we must move on.
Lisboa. HI!!! A big ole city here in Portugal. My college friend Katie Adams lives here and looks at this view into the city. She lives in Estoril, a little suburb, if you will, that is home to the ‘Casino Royale’ that inspired Ian Fleming to write such a classic.
There is a beach or two over here as well. Just happened to catch a full moon on the boardwalk.Yeah. The views did not stop here. This was just the beginning.
As luck would have it, we landed in the greater Lisboa area for a special couple of days. Not only was it their national holiday, Dia de Camoes, but also the biggest celebration of their year, Dia de Santo Antonio. I’ve never seen or smelled so many fish being grilled in my entire life. These people party. Hard.
Sardines! They are giant!
Every street corner
This turned into a 5am ordeal real quick. As fun as all this hoopla was, the streets of Lisbon were a disaster, and so were the porta-potties. Eeeek. ‘Good luck in there’, was what I was told. Thanks pal.
Here is the reason for all this hoopla. This guy right here. Santo Antonia.
From what we have gathered from the locals, he was pretty amazing back in the day. Bringing fish to the people when they were starving, bringing children back from the dead, helping unmarried women find a good partner… whew. He was saintly for sure, hence the giant city-wide celebration. That was quite the experience. No words or pictures can quite sum up the intensity felt here during this time.
Back to the regular paced life, we go here. Sintra. The home of many radical palaces, castles, museums, and old things. Our favorite place was Quinta da Regaleira, thanks to Katie’s recommendation. The biggest challenge is knowing what crazy vintage holy space to pay to get in to and the ones to just go to the gate and take a picture. This was a great 2.5 hours spent. The grounds are amazing. Harry Potter-esque. Look at this stuff!!!
Underground tunnels, labyrinths, mosaics, spiral staircases, sculptures, waterfalls, WHAT?!? Who was this guy?
The history lessons we are getting from these cities are priceless. So grateful for this.
And this! Yay! A wine and art tour! Obrigada Katie!
I met her in 2006 ish, attending the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. We both graduated with degrees in Education. She hosted me in Seoul, South Korea in 2012, and now in Portugal. I told her, “I’m just going to follow you around the world.” She said, “Do it!” Here we are at Bacalhoa winery in the Setubal region of Portugal. Kind of a big operation if you ask me. The owner is also the biggest art collector in the country. Have a quick look.
We had fun here. Thankfully, Katie is an amazing interpreter and helped us through the tour. Our guide spoke English so I asked him some geeky wine questions. He asked me where I worked. Then he guessed Napa Valley. I guess according to Europe that’s the only place making wine in the U.S.A. When I said Oregon, he was all like, “Whaaaaaat?!? Oregon makes wine?” To which I replied, “It’s cool man. Some people have no clue Portugal makes wine either.” Touché.
We laughed and agreed both Portugal and Oregon are still ‘under the radar’.
Katie then brought us here where she and some friends made some real deal tiles. The kind that is only hand produced by a very select few places any more. This is one of them.If you appreciate art in any form, this place was CRAZY! I guess these were made for Elton John…Also, look at all this cool stuff made entirely by hand start to finish!
I wanted to buy an entire wall of tiles and bring them home. Not possible unfortunately.
Lastly, we end on a couple different notes before catching a flight to Madrid. A surf record beach and the historical close to a whirlwind of a Portuguese adventure. This beach though!
Oh Hey Guincho Beach… Aren’t you purdy?!? With a hotel that has a pool where the ocean and it’s fierceness blasts into the walls that hold you up. This is where our American modern day slang comes in and I say that was ‘cray-cray’. How confusing language can be! Just outside of this other lovely beach town Cascais (Kush-kaish), was this beach we walked 4 miles to. Saying it was windy is a complete underwhelming statement. We got sand blasted through that first picture, hence the last picture of the hoody up and rose deservingly going down.
History. Here are some things.
A compilation of just walking and experiencing all that is Lisboa. I feel like I need more time in Portugal. Evora where there are temples made from bones and Porto where well, PORT is made!!! Ugh. As Kurt says, you can’t see it all.
Thanks again Katie, and Bacalhoa, and Santo Antonio, and Kurt, and all that magical magic. May all of that continue. On to the middle and the top of Espana. Felicidades!