Heat Wave!

As we were approaching our departure date from Portugal we were looking ahead to our next stop on the schedule; Marrakech, Morocco.  We thought the temperatures in Southern Europe were high, the forecast for Marrakech made the hollows of hell look down right chilly.  After our brush with heat stroke in Seville at just over 40 Celsius, the temperatures in Marrakech were expected to be at least 47 Celsius.  Clearly that would be extraordinarily unpleasant for more than just me in my personal menopausal heatwave, but for the rest of the family too.  The thought of trying to do anything in those high temperatures seemed impossible so we made the decision to re-route ourselves.

This is when it got a little tricky.  Our Schengen Tourist Visas were set to expire on August 1, so we need to get out of the EU.  We were scheduled to be in London after Morocco so that was easy.  But what to do in the meantime?  Croatia was just too far to consider for only 5 days.  Maybe Edinburgh, but that required more flights and the weather there was practically autumnal.  We didn’t have the clothes for that.  What about The Cotswolds?  Under a two hour drive from London, we could fly from Lisbon to Heathrow, rent a car and drive to the countryside.  After a few days we could then drive ourselves right back into Central London and resume our pre-planned itinerary.  This would eliminate a flight from our schedule overall which was also a nice bonus seeing as airline and luggage delays were still a going concern.  Luckily we found a centrally located Airbnb that was available in the market town of Burford so we locked it in.  We were very sad to miss Marrakech, but this seemed like the most sensible solution.

The Cotswolds are so charming.  You can see how Beatrix Potter and Lewis Carroll were inspired by the pastoral, rolling hills.  It’s also a fantastic central location from which to explore this part of England.  We decided to take full advantage of that.

Our sweet little cottage was right on the Main Street of Burford with a pile of charming pubs right outside our door.  All plans to take advantage of finally having a kitchen to cook in after a month went out the window after our first pub dinner at the Cotswold Arms.  The steak and ale pie accompanied by fresh peas, mash and loads of other veggies was the most comfortable of comfort food we could imagine and we welcomed it with open mouths!  We also had one of those fun, stars-aligning travel moments at the Cotswold Arms.  We started chatting with our server S.  He was re-counting to us his Covid experience and coming home after working and travelling abroad for many years.  He is currently building a new career as a professional photographer.  Lighting strike!  We had the idea at one stage of our trip, to get some family photos taken to commemorate our adventure.  We asked S if he might be interested and available to take them for us and he was!  Lucky thing! We made a plan to meet up in a few days.

In the meantime we managed sample many more meat pies at several of the other cute pubs in Burford.  The Highway Inn, The Angel and The Royal Oak were all highlights.  The Highway Inn was particularly good – perhaps it was the sautéed kale served with the pie or the fact that it was about 4 doors down from our cottage?  I’m not sure but we ate there twice.  Pub food in The Cotswolds is excellent and we had meals that rivalled any of our best in Italy.  So there.

Our first day in The Cotswolds was deemed a day off to mess around, do laundry and wander the village of Burford.  We were happy to stay close to home.  Peanut butter and jelly on toast for breakfast.  Hummus on crackers for dinner.  We were very happy for a chill out day.  But not wanting to miss the action, day two was far more jam packed.

Day off “at home” in the Cotswolds with ice cold Appletisers

We were up early to drive the hour plus to Highclere Castle better known as the location of Downton Abbey.  As long time Downton fans, we nerded out on the long walk up to the castle and as we toured through the house.  This is the room where Lady Mary slept with Kamal Pamuk and then he died and she was nearly ruined!  And here, this is the spot where Lady Edith threw her veil after being jilted at the altar by Sir Anthony.  And over there, that’s the door where Mr. Bates surprised Anna after he was released from prison.  Ahhh, memories.

Following our scheduled visit at Highclere and the obligatory swing through the very flowery gift shop, we mapped our next destination – Stonehenge.  Just over 30 minutes away and growing by the minute as the throngs of tourists were beginning to descend.  Our plan was to hop on the motorway and drive past Stonehenge, waving and snapping a photo.  From there we’d swing back northwards and stop in the town of Swindon to visit the nearest Nandos to Burford for lunch.  Easy.  Except we underestimated the encroaching tourists.  The Google Oracle was mapping us, constantly diverting us as we got closer to Salisbury to avoid the ensuing traffic jams.  Turn left here, take the second exit at the roundabout, turn right here and so on and so on.  Before we knew it, we were turning into the parking lot for the Henge.  F**k.  Google sent us off the motorway so we had taken the long way round and were taken straight to the visitors centre.  Well, now that we’re here at this ancient monolith we can’t very well turnaround and go without seeing it.

So we followed the line-up into the parking lot.  We trudged across the lot and found the line-up for ticket sales.  With luck, tickets were still available for today.  Then we wandered around until we found our way to the bus stop.  We waited for the bus that would take us the 2 miles up the road to see Stonehenge – 2 miles return seemed a little too far to walk when it was way past lunch and people were hankering for their Nando’s fix.  We rode the bus, arrived at The Henge, got out, walked over to the site, took 4 photos (one was crap), turned heel and got back on the bus to head back to the visitor’s centre.  Probably 45 minutes of rigamarole for a 5 minute visit to see the Henge.

Back at the Visitor’s Centre we dropped 20 quid in the gift shop – check out the Little’s Stonehenge shaped pillow – we were back in the car and racing to Swindon before anyone got VERY hangry.  Swindon is a town that tourists definitely skip, but the Nando’s was nice and everyone was happy for some good South African/ Portuguese fast food.

Exit through the gift shop…

The following day, we pre-booked tickets to visit Blenheim Palace.  The ancestral seat of the Duke of Marlborough but also perhaps more famously known as the birthplace of Winston Churchill.  The Palace is modelled a bit after Versailles and is extraordinarily grand.  We spent some time googling the current Duke of Marlborough who still resides on the Estate, he seems to have recovered well from his addiction issues and brushes with the law.  Ahhh the British Aristocracy, how the other half live!

Blenheim is located in the town of Woodstock just a short drive from Oxford.  We figured we should take the chance to see the town and famous University.  Oxford is a very cool place and would definitely warrant a future visit for a longer period of time.  A city filled with students from all over the world lends an international flair.  Not to mention all the incredibly famous university buildings through the centre of town.

On our last day in The Cotswolds, we decided to try and see some of the other famous little towns in the area.  We visited Bourton-on-the-Water with its shallow river and real Wind in the Willows vibes.  We also drove through the town of Stow-on-the-Wold.  Such charming little communities where you expect the squirrels to have names and for the ducks to start speaking out loud. 

At the end of the day it was time for our photo shoot. S gave us coordinates to a place called Minster Lovell.  A tiny village with an abandoned manor house that would serve as the backdrop for our shoot.  S took some great shots of us that afternoon that will serve as a great memory of our trip.

Pretending to get along at Minster Lovell in the Cotswolds

While it was MUCH less exotic than Marrakech, The Cotswolds were a lovely place to spend a few days.  The slightly cooler temperatures made the days bearable and the nights comfortable for sleep.  The people were so kind and gracious, happy to have tourists coming back through their doors.  We loved our cozy cottage and imagined that it would be a lovely place to visit in winter as much as it was now in summer.  We have now added another great place that we’d love to visit again.

The Algarve

Editor’s Note: Due to a severe case of jet lag I managed to post out of order. In fact, we travelled from Seville to The Algarve and from The Algarve to Lisbon. I’m posting this a little late. Mi dispiace.

Following our hasty departure from Seville, with a slightly heat-stroked and nauseous little we made the trip to Albufeira in about 2.5 hours. We arrived at the beach resort and were grateful that the temperature was about 10 degrees cooler here on the Southern Coast of Portugal.

Why yes you are…

It was a bit of culture shock to walk into a massive resort. It is a huge gated community with golf course, several houses and condos and finally our hotel on the cliff overlooking the sea and the beach below. After staying in places with under 50 rooms, we were not in Kansas anymore. This place was a monstrosity with several restaurants and swimming pools. Here people jockey for lounge chairs. We worried a little that perhaps we had made a mistake.

Big resort beach club vibes

But as Monsieur repeated the mantra we carried for all of our travel decisions “It’s All Good”. Everything was an opportunity to experience something new and we would just go with the flow. The kids were happy to have a little break from all the museum visiting. The hardest choice of the day was beach or pool. Catering to British holiday-makers, everything was in English including the TV options. It was a nice change of pace for a minute not to have to work as hard to order or choose some entertainment. But I will admit, we missed the opportunity to try and learn more Portuguese language and culture.

In the meantime, while brushing his teeth Monsieur threw out his back. He managed to spend a day in bed in the room. By the third day at the beach Monsieur was finally healed enough to hobble around a little. We decided to hop in the car and explore a bit. The historic centre of Albufeira was only a short 20 minute drive away and about as far as he could manage sitting in the car. Surprisingly, it was a serious disappointment. Overrun with crappy trinket shops and sunburned and drunk tourists (at 11am!!) we didn’t last a half an hour. Truth be told, we probably should have ventured a little further to the east to see Faro or perhaps further west towards the open Atlantic, but we were lazy and if you saw Monsieur trying to get in and out of the car Albufeira was far enough.

This shot kind of sums up Albufeira perfectly

The Algarve is indeed a very beautiful place. The beaches are epic with their high cliffs and white sand. But its catering to the holidaymaker more than the traveller, so this time around the Algarve wasn’t for us. Maybe we’ll try it again in the future. Who knows???

Lisbon and The Mandalorian

Grateful for our few days off in The Algarve, we were really looking forward to some time in a big city again. We put in the coordinates for our hotel in Lisbon into Google Maps and off we went. Wait a minute, this says that the drive is 3.5 hours. I thought it was more like 2.5 hours. And why do we have to head so far east when we want to go north? The main north/ south toll highway, the A2 was closed from the starting point in The Algarve until about Ourique due to a raging forest fire. The drought in this part of the world is very evident with many dry river beds and scorched fields, especially with the epic heatwave we had been experiencing. So off we went with the Google Oracle as our guide, twisting and turning on single lane roads through Southern Portugal. No peepee stops here, there’s nowhere to stop. Finally we reached the apex, on top of a mountain we seemed to be in the highest point in Southern Portugal and found ourselves in the middle of a wind turbine forest. Another notch in the cap of the European Environmental initiatives. Wind turbines are a very common sight.

We were glad to finally reach the A2 again and found a service centre with ice cream bars and a clean washroom for a stop. It wasn’t long before we were crossing the Ponte 25 de Abril (a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge it was built by the same contractor) and into lovely Lisbon. Happy to be back in the land of walking tours and Uber, we gratefully returned our rental car and continued our journey on foot.

This calçada in Chiado is a nod to the important seafaring history of Portugal

Lisbon is a beautiful city. The calçada sidewalks are stunning mosaics and an art form unto themselves and the beautiful tile works on many of the buildings create a distinctive Portuguese design element.

We booked a walking tour that started at the top of Avenida Liberdade at Parque Eduardo VII, walking along the very broad and tree lined Avenida through the Praça Dom Pedro IV and towards the elevator that would help reduce the climb up to the historic Alfama neighbourhood. It was a fun tour, full of historical information that I won’t bore you with, but we were glad to get a real taste of Lisbon. Alfama is extremely quaint and charming, mostly because it is still a residential neighbourhood. Locals hang their laundry and put their bird cages in the windows while tourists bustle by trying to capture it all on our iPhones.

Lisboa!

At the top of Alfama we decided to hop in one of the many tuktuks (an import from Asia, the streets of Lisbon are overrun with tuktuk tour operators all vying for your tourism euros). Our guide chose one that looked the safest with a female driver. Never judge a book by its cover, because this woman was a maniac on the road and we were all holding on for dear life. Not to mention that she was hell bent on proving that she knew more than our guide. After a hair raising 30 minutes, we finally arrived in the upscale Chiado shopping area and bid farewell to both our guides with the intention of getting lunch.

We ended up at the historic A Brasileira cafe for Prego Rolls (Portuguese steak sandwiches) and Cokes. Don’t judge, Coca-Cola is the fuel that kept us on the move on this trip with just the right combination of sugar and caffeine. When we get home there will be a strict Coke moratorium. The cafe was ok. It was more about the historic wood-panelled decor than the food. We decided that we would take our Pastéis de Nata order elsewhere for dessert.

Just up the street, we found the Manteigeira – Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata. A bakery that only sells the ubiquitous Portuguese egg custard tarts. Everyone claims to have the best in town, and Manteigeira was no different. I’m not enough of an expert to definitively say which one is the best, but we gave it a real effort and tried quite a few at all of our Portuguese destinations. Truth be told, I don’t mind taking one for the team and continuing this quest for the perfect Pastéis de Nata. I’ll make that sacrifice for you!

Once everyone’s grumpies were sated by the delicious tarts we hoped in an Uber and headed back to the hotel so we could put our kids in the pool to cool off and recharge before dinner. As you know, the aforementioned Coca-Cola does have a very short energy burst that wears off quickly. The trick is to get the kids into a swimming pool before the effects of the sugar wanes.

Luckily, the hotel pool was very nice and had plenty of shade. I myself was off for a much needed mani/ pedi and missed the action. The Little Kid was swimming away and with her celebrity hawk eyes, spotted the one and only Pedro Pascal suntanning on the other side. Pick your franchise – Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Narcos – Pedro starred in all of them. Of course, the Little knows him from The Mandalorian. Our Friday night routine during Covid was to watch (and re-watch) the show being fans of the Child and Mando himself. I’m partial to that calm husky voice, thank you very much… IYKYK…. Anyways, with a boost of bravery from Monsieur, the Little ventured over and said hello. They had a lovely visit with Pedro (I call him Pedro now because clearly my family are so tight with him) who was extremely kind, gracious and even a little chatty. I was only a little jealous because I now had a much needed refresh on my fingers and toes.

This is the Way… to the pool

Our favourite dinner was at Time Out Market. Seeing it on every list of things to see and do in Lisbon, I was expecting it to be like Granville Island Market in Vancouver so I wasn’t racing to get there. But we decided it might be a good option with the kids since its essentially a food court with plenty of dining options. It’s a food court alright, but with some of the best chefs in Portugal serving up signature dishes. You can get pizza, burgers and hot dogs too but they are gourmet all the way. The hall is several long communal tables surrounded by loads of food outlets. In the centre amongst the tables are beer, wine and cocktail purveyors so it feels more like a beer garden with much better food. Make sure to leave room for dessert as there’s plenty of sweet options like gelato and of course the best Pastéis de Nata in the city (or so they say… this jury is still deliberating).

Time Out Market is located down closer to the River. We decided to walk back to the hotel only realizing when it was too late that it was uphill the whole way. We hiked up into Bairro Alto up a flight of stairs that rivaled those on the side of Montmartre. With a full tummy and one or two pints of Sagres down, it felt a lot more like the Grouse Grind to me. Once at the top, weaving through the bar filled streets of Bairro Alto the kids finally convinced us to stop and call an Uber.

Back at the hotel, the kids headed off to bed and Monsieur and I found the bar to enjoy a nightcap. Ever since watching the Love Boat as a kid, I’ve always LOVED the word “nightcap”. It’s so seventies and sleazy.

“Care to join me in my cabin for a nightcap?” she said suggestively as the strap of her sequinned evening gown slipped from her shoulder, her feather boa dipping to the ground.

See? So why not? Here we were in Portugal where they MAKE THE MOST delicious nightcap ever: Port! It would be rude NOT to head to the bar for a nightcap, a glass of yummy chilled white port. So we did and it was delicious. The kids only texted us asking for the wifi password twice and to complain that the other kid was bothering them three or four times before we packed it in and called it a night.

The next day, still facing the continuing heatwave the kids decided to have a chill day in the hotel. Not wanting to miss a minute of Lisbon, Monsieur and I took off to explore The LX Factory. Located in an industrial area underneath the 25 de Abril Bridge, its a collection of old warehouse and industrial buildings that has been converted into artists studios, creative workspaces, unique shops and lively restaurants. We loved exploring the area and had fun checking out all the cool Portuguese art and design. In my opinion, LX Factory is a must-do when in Lisbon. Try to hit it on a weekday, sadly we were there on a Saturday and many of the smaller ateliers weren’t open on the weekend.

I figured out that this was in fact my fourth visit to Lisbon as I used to travel here on business for a couple of years. I was very glad that Monsieur loved it as much as I did. It’s a city we definitely want to go back to and spend more time. It’s full of history – like anywhere some good and some bad. But its a vibrant place with lots of young people building a life and solid communities of people that have made it their home for decades. Don’t underestimate Lisbon, it’s definitely worth a visit.