So there we were, heading down the tollway in our rental car.
The tolls weren’t a problem, we’d filled in the paperwork for electronic tolling and agreed to settle the bill with the rental company when we brought the car back, but cars do need petrol and it’s a reasonable distance from Lisbon to Tavira, our first stop.
Being seasoned travellers, we picked a quiet looking servo on the tollway for our first adventure of putting petrol in the car – which side is the filler cap on, does the hose reach, and how do you open the damn thing etc.
Well. we’d had a Renault before, we guessed correctly the side the filler cap was on, found the cap release lever easily enough, and the we came across the dread Portuguese self service petrol pump.
Basically, you can pay in advance, or you put your card in a cardreader in the pump to preauthorize it – and yes the instructions are in one language only.
As well as our usual cards we had a Travel Card from our bank – basically it functions as a multi currency debit card and it’s nicely integrated with our bank’s online banking solution so you can track your spending.
The only tricky bit is that you occasionally come across machines that recognise the card as an Australian card and helpfully offer to bill you in Australian dollars rather than Euros, Pounds, Singapore Dollars or what have you. When this happens you need to go through the rigmarole of declining this option (usually twice) to get them to bill you in local currency.
So anyway, in with our card. Enter the pin. Card declined. Catch card as it’s spat out and clean it on shorts and try again. Same result.
Reverse out of bay and try a different pump. Card, Pin, and this time it works. Card authorized. Fill car, card returned, only for the printer in the pump to jam. No receipt. Well we can live with that.
And on to Tavira.
While a lot of the Algarve is spoiled by mass tourism, Tavira, retains much of its pre-tourism charm. There are the ruins of the old castle, the old convent where we stayed, which is nowa ‘Pousada’, and the general ambience and charm of what is still fundamentally a fishing town.
There’s a nice old bridge in the town centre, which still has Roman stonework in the piers even though it has been rebuilt several times over the centuries, firstly by the Arabs and lastly after the great earthquake, which not only flattened Lisbon but did terrible damage to the coastal towns of the Algarve.
It wasn’t all pousadas, ruins and churches – there’s a major wetland reserve and one morning we took a boat trip through the wetlands out through the oyster beds to the Ilha de Tavira, and saw flamingos taking off from a roosting site across a lagoon
Next stop, a week in Monchique, in the hills behind the Western Algarve, staying at a property with spectacular views of the coast, owned by a German couple.
Our original plan had been to do some walking, but the weather was unseasonably hot for the end of September, so mostly we explored the rocky and beautiful western Algarve coast by car. Our favourite spot here for swim and lunch was Salema, a relatively quiet fishing village with a good swimming beach and only a few tourists. We visited the stunning west coast at Odaceixe, a wide sweeping bay with a river, a bit of a mecca for surfers.
I also did some totally unsuccessful hunting for Roman ruins. I did find the fishponds in Luz, but they were behind a locked steel gate next to the Euromoney cash machine on the sea front and there is an ongoing German Portuguese excavation at Boca dos Rios – a surf beach not far from Salema.
The day we were there they were pulling bits of amphora out of one of the excavation pits.
The other great thing we did, at the suggestion of our hosts, was go to the local bar restaurant – something which involved a walk down lanes through oak forest. When we got there, the place was heaving, not surprisingly because, apart from quarry workers and local farmers stopping by for a drink they served the best piri piri chicken, chips and salad we had – big old charcoal grill out the back and the food just kept coming. Cash only of course, and what they had is what they had as far as wine went, but excellent value, and fun.
On the way back we realised that the sun had set, and it was getting dark, and perhaps not time for wandering about rural Portugal, especially given the habit of some of the locals to hurtle down the back roads in old Renault 4’s and Peugeot 205’s without headlights.
Fortunately, for all it’s old world charm, the bar had wifi, and I downloaded a flashlight app for my phone which was surprisingly effective, even if it drained the battery. A nice unintentional plus in the app I chose was that it didn’t darken the screen while it was running, meaning you could hold the phone out to see the way ahead but anyone coming behind could see the glow of the phone.
And then we were done.
Not quite. We’d planned a few days in Lisbon before going home via Singapore, and I was feeling Roman ruin deprived so we decided on a loop with an overnight in Evora to see the temple of Diana.
So off to Evora it was …