Travels with the Crazy Cat Lady
The following blogs, that I will publish once a week, I will introduce you to the countries I have travelled to: my stories and anecdotes, some crazy, some full of adventures, others hopefully inspirational.
First on my list, is a country that was once a little known gem in Europe. This is quickly changing as more and more people are discovering this tourist destination that is being described as the new California of the western world.
Allow me to introduce you to Portugal:
*Why I came to Portugal- my Journey
*The history of the country and it’s people
*Favorite places to visit and attractions
*My furbabies and cat rescues in the Algarve
*Why is Portugal a popular tourist destination
*Crazy and interesting anecdotes in each story.
I hope you will follow me on my journey of fun an adventure, and feel free to comment or review any story.
Why I Came to Portugal – My Journey
A chance encounter and a sense of adventure brought me to Portugal. In the beginning, it was not my country of choice.
Not that I had anything against Portugal. I just knew so little about the Iberian Peninsula tucked away in the most westerly corner of Europe, and only that it bordered Spain and had nice beaches. (Columbus used it as a jumping ground to launch his voyages of discovery, one being a new gateway to China – but stumbled instead upon a little known continent named North America). ***
The idea was seeded in my mind on an autumn day in 2016 in a café in Switzerland.
Recently retired, I was searching for a winter retreat in Europe to be closer to my son Marc and grandson, Rafael, who lived in Winterthur, Switzerland. So I crossed the pond once again from my home country of Canada in search of my Shangri-La.
Spain tweaked my interest, where I’d spent three sun-soaked weeks in Majorca drinking margaritas a few years back, but a conversation with a friend changed all that.
“What sort of place are you looking for?” my friend asked, as we sipped cappuccino’s in a busy café in the heart of the little Swiss city of Winterthur.
“Somewhere warm, sunny, close to the ocean, and inexpensive,” I said. “And with a good flights to Switzerland and Canada.”
“Why don’t you try Portugal?” he replied.
My curiosity got the better of me, and I asked him why Portugal.
“Because the people are friendly, the food and wine are superb, the climate, especially in the Algarve, is sunny and warm in the winter months, and it’s affordable to live there.”
Having my undivided attention, he went on to tell me more about this tiny country. How safe it was, how the clean, sandy beaches stretched to eternity, how one could wear a t-shirt in winter, and sip local wine or a cerveza for a couple of euros.
And flights between the two countries were less than three hours door to door.
After sleeping on it, I thought, what do I have to lose? If it didn’t work out, I could find another warm place in Europe to hang my sandals, or go back to Mexico.
Two weeks later, on a warm September day, I was on a plane from Zurich to Faro, with no real plans, and going it solo. I wondered if I had lost all my grey cells flying to a foreign land not knowing a soul, and at my age!
Making our descent towards Faro, the capital city in the Algarve, the most southern region of Portugal, all I could see out my port window was beach and water! I held my breath as we raced towards the blue water, only to feel the plane level off and slowly dip towards the coastline; I sighed upon seeing ‘Aeroporto Faro’ in the distance.
Landing with a light thud on the tarmac, I stared at the green hilly countryside as the plane taxied to the grey, modest airport, not realizing how much my life was about to change.
The sun was setting as we drove west out of Faro. It was the most beautiful red sunset I’d seen in a long time, sinking slowly into the Atlantic Ocean. I was in the Algarve, but at that moment, I had no idea what that meant.
The shuttle bus dropped me off in Porches, a small town I randomly chose on Booking.com because the hacienda-style hotel reminded me of Baja, Mexico, where I had spent four winters.
After a few days of sightseeing, Alvor caught my interest online in my search for a village closer to the ocean. So I hopped on a local bus, and an hour later I dragged my suitcase through the entrance of Camping Alvor just as music began playing in the local bar.
Settling in my room with a glass of wine, chatter and music could be heard through the shutters. Peering out the window, I saw a white building, a stones throw away from me, packed with people sitting outside on red plastic chairs and tables under big umbrellas, with many more dancing in front of a band playing very loud, strange music, with bursts of laughter filling the afternoon air. A huge grin appeared on my face, and I thought- this isn’t so bad. Later, I was serenaded to sleep with Portuguese music ringing in my ears.
Exploring the quintessential village of Alvor in the weeks that followed, I savoured the scenes of everyday life in Portugal—locals drinking coffee in the little cafés dotting the cobblestone streets, sipping wine in the many colourful flower-decked restaurants down by the harbour, watching fishermen gut their catch and sell it to the local restaurants, buying local fruit and vegetables at the nearby market, taking in the natural beauty of the beaches, and swimming in the ocean.
The fishing village lifestyle seemed perfect for me, growing up in a small city and on a farm in Canada, and later when I was married, living in a mountain village in Switzerland.
I loved the contrast between the new and old Portuguese. One can find white, tall, modern, five-star hotels on one side of the street, a bearded Portuguese sheep herder tending to his bleating flock of sheep grazing in rolling green pastures with old ruins scattered about—all in harmony with one another.
As the weeks flowed by, I wondered —was I crazy to come here? Was it a safe country, what was the cost of living, accommodation?
I also wondered what others thought of me beginning a new life past sixty. Wow! I had never considered myself as being older. I was told I looked younger than my age, and my marble were in pretty good shape- but in retrospect, my confidence was waning—just a little.
Following my beliefs of fulfilling my dreams – being close to my family and living in a warmer climate for the winter had to be the right path…..right? And did it really matter what people thought. In reality, they probably gave little thought to my life, and if they did, they over-all supported me, and were proud that I had the courage to come here in the first place.
The warmth and friendliness of the people peeled off and doubt and nervousness, and slowly I integrated with the people – expats like myself from many different European countries, UK, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Finland, Sweden, also Brazil and China, the US, and my home country. English was the common language spoken.
If I needed company or a good chat, I only had to step out my door and there was always a friendly face to greet me. I would often walk around chatting with friends or stopping for a coffee – play darts or pool at the restaurant, karaoke, or join a quiz game. In retrospect, approximately a third of the people I know are single, half of those being men. I say this because statistically women normally outlive men. Maybe part of the reason there are more single men is the lifestyle—men seem to be more independent here and overall more active, hence they live longer—maybe it was also the good wine and first class golf courses!
Determined to give it a go, I read the local English newspaper, watched local television, trying to make sense of the Portuguese language, (which was difficult as the language is unique and one of the most difficult to learn; many moments were spent frantically searching in my Portuguese dictionary for a word or phrase to explain what I wanted in a store). So I took lessons to try and learn basic Portuguese, read books on the culture and the people, and experienced first hand what the country was all about – slowly but surely, it began to grow on me.
One day I saw an advert for a fitness group at the local community centre and joined in, meeting other ladies who were friendly and supportive. Our instructor was a lovely lady called Marie. We not only broke sweat together, but everyone was encouraged to go for a coffee afterwards in the downstairs café.
Before I knew it, there was show dancing with Shelley on Mondays, line dancing with Joan on Wednesdays, Barb on Thursdays, yoga, swimming and walking on the beach in between.
I joined a writers group, (eventually writing a book, but that’s another story), Jayne’s social group – ‘Let’s Get it On,’ having fun at concerts, lunches, dancing, walks, drinks/coffee, and day trips around Portugal.
I came to realize that if I make the effort to meet people and be willing to try different things and have an open mind, I will love life and find happiness– and I have!
I pinch myself every morning as I wake up to sunshine and t-shirt weather in January. My confidence has returned. It feels right. It was all that my friend said and much more.
A chance encounter brought me to this beautiful country, and I am glad I had the courage to take that first step. I really was crazy, but in a good way.
“Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” Buddha
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