The last leg of my trip was to be spent in some good old Saffron Walden company, staying with Topher and his charming girlfriend, Rachel. I don’t think I need go into any detail regarding Amsterdam – all the rumours are true and it’s here to be discovered for yourselves, if you haven’t already been.
My stay in Sintra, however, was topped by a visit to the enchanting Quinta de Regaleira. Although the house was interesting it was the garden that could not fail to impress. Set in large tiers this steep tangle of orchids and large trees was littered with castle turrets and water features, but it was the Initiation Well that really blew me away. The well was over 60 feet deep and wide enough to walk down. Truly this was something out of Tomb Raider as I descended down the well via a stone staircase bordered by large archways.
On my last night in Evora I went up to the Roman columns, one of the most impressive structures in town (especially when lit up at night) and watched an outdoor fashion show.
Shintaro, like Kato from the Pink Panther, kept popping up everywhere I went. As soon as I walked into the dorm room and introduced myself he offered me a jelly panty liner wrapped in plastic and, unwrapping his and sticking it to his forehead, he repeated the word “cool”.
After about 2 minutes he stood up and handed me a leaflet entitled “Throughout the rich history of Portugal, who is the most important discoverer?” As he resumed his crouching position to continue his rummaging I flicked through the leaflet, intrigued to find out who the most important discoverer was. Surely it was Prince Henry the Navigator? No. Was it Pedro Alvares Cabral? Nope. How about Vasco da Gama? No!
Evora is a beautiful baroque and rococo (hoorah!) walled city, reminding me of something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, not least because the town was full of old people who all knew each other, and perhaps because I couldn’t see any children. Indeed many residents were hot contenders for the position of Child Catcher.
My train journey to Beja took me through the Alentejo region, which had recently been subject to fierce fires that swept across the entire region. The Algarve and the Alentejo regions are miles upon miles of desolate, arid, dry mud fields, broken up by cork oaks and olive groves.
The most obvious sign of the conspiracy is the Portuguese language. Although the written word looks very much like Spanish the spoken word actually sounds like a cross between Arabic and Nordic. In other words they make it up as they go along. When the locals speak amongst themselves they are actually speaking Spanish, but whenever a tourist is present they break into a language that does not actually exist.
Upon my return the bearded man-woman had taken it upon herself to keep my towel warm by spreading her fat self across my sun-lounge. When I indicated that she was in my space she grunted but didn’t move. OK, so she could keep the sun-lounge but I wanted my towel back.
My, my, how circumstances change. All of a sudden I find myself without purpose and a lot of time on my hands doing nothing but sunbathing. No bad thing, I hear you say, but this hadn’t been the plan.
Unlike their UK cousins who are pampered and spoilt and called Fifi or Derek, Portuguese dogs runs tings. They’ve got gangster names like Bullet Dodger Biffhead, Four Star Flash Killer and Cruel Cat-Chaser Crusher. They cruise the streets like they own the place, window shopping in town and congregating and plotting up in the valleys.
Over the next couple of days Mario would try to teach me Portuguese. Every time I repeated a word he would tell me I’d said it wrong. He’d repeat it again, this time sounding completely different. Every time he taught me a new word I never learned it as he corrected me over and over again, repeating the word with different emphasis each time.
A brief walk round Albufeira justified my rather snobbish attitude towards the holiday makers here. They had all congregated in the town square to watch the street performers, and which street performer had attracted the biggest audience? The band of South American pan-pipe players! Wrong continent, you sad bunch of losers.
Instead I had to consider the possibility of staying in Albufeira. Ever heard of it? I had, and it conjured up images of Club 18-30 slags and warm lager.
And then we entered the Algarve. If ever a country demonstrated a distinction between the north and the south then Portugal must surely be the most extreme. The north, mountainous, green and lush is dominated by tradition and culture. It’s very poor.
Lisbon is as cosmopolitan as Porto is traditional. This is apparent as soon as you hit the streets, which are bustling with travellers, hippies, performers, artists, musicians, Bohemians, and gays. Yes, it seems Lisbon is home to the hom. A wrong look in the direction of one of the many pretty boys here and you could find yourself in a tight spot. Literally.
Shock! Horror! Following Lorraine’s confirmation that she is jumping ship I have decided to follow suit. Prompted by an incident yesterday I have decided to do myself a favour and take a break, heading inland towards the capital, Lisbon.
If Lorraine does jump ship where will this leave me on the boat? I’m growing increasingly concerned that I am becoming the ship’s gimp. Despite undertaking a number of chores on the boat without being asked, from being the first person (only person) to clean the heads, or scrub down the shelves, it seems I can never do enough.
More rubbish weather so today I just wandered up to the sea break and tried to take some photos of the rather large waves crashing over the harbour wall. I got soaked and got no decent pictures.
Porto blew me away. It is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited, from it’s opulent architecture to the river side promenades. The city of 263,000 people is stacked up either side of the Rio Douro, with the huge Ponte de Dom Louis 1 joining the main city centre with the port distillery lodges on the south side. This is echoed by another five huge bridges that continue to straddle the river in land.