Hell Yeah, It’s Hot Here!
We have hit the dog days of summer here in The Algarve. While the entire Iberian Peninsula may not be on fire (as the US media is apparently reporting, based on emails from concerned friends), it sure feels that way. Temperatures have been in the 90s and 100s for the past week and many homes in Portugal do not have air conditioning (or heating for that matter). My apartment is one of them.
I do have the luxury of three sets of sliding doors across the front of my apartment and another slider in the back bedroom, so I can create a nice cross breeze. I also have the luxury of being on the water which gives me a better chance of actually catching a breeze. I am prepped for another day of record high temperatures and then the heat will break tonight and the days will cool down to the 80s and the nights into the 60s. (I could give that to you in Celsius, but I don’t want you to think I’ve gone all high-falutin’ on you.) In the meantime, I have a lovely fan that hits me directly in the face. I am like a dog traveling down the highway with my head out the window.
While many people are choosing (wisely) to hide inside their air conditioned homes or go to the air conditioned mall or visit friends with air conditioning, I decided to join friends on a day trip to Vila Real de Santo António (VRSA) on Friday. I caught the train from Tavira, they joined me at the Conceição station and a few stops later, we were at the end of the line. VRSA is the last stop in The Algarve before the bridge across the Guadiana River which creates the border with Spain.
In the 1700s, Santo António de Arenilha was a small fishing village. It was wiped out in the tsunami triggered by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. In 1773, Joseph I decreed that a new town be built which became Vila Real [“Royal Town”] de Santo António. It was finished in 1776, using the latest technologies and the grid system developed by the Marquis of Pombal in the reconstruction of Lisbon. Much of the architecture is from that period.
That marquis knew what he was doing. The grid system makes the town easy to navigate. We stopped for some orange juice before walking down to the central area filled with shops: linen shops, clothing, kitchenware, gelato, cafés, you name it. This is definitely a place to spend some time… and money.
But we were on a mission. We headed over to the ferry terminal and purchased tickets to cross the river. The town of Ayemonte is on the other side and people have been living there since the Stone Age. There is a huge plaza surrounded by shops and restaurants and, in spite of the heat, very busy. My friends have discovered a used bookstore on the plaza so that was our first stop. Most of the books are in Spanish, of course, but the owner pulled out two shopping bags full of English language novels for me. At a Euro a book, I had a field day. I also picked up some colored pens and highlighters. I’m a gal who knows how to treat herself right.
We walked around the plaza, poking through the merchandise in the outdoor stalls, and eventually choosing a restaurant to have a glass of wine. (Hey, it’s an hour later in Spain.) After a refreshing pitcher of sangria, we decided to eat there, too. (It seemed so much easier than actually standing up.) My friends are much healthier than I am so they had fish and “Russian Salad” which is pretty much potato salad with a great presentation. I had grilled chicken with french fries. We walked around some more, mostly taking in the sights and sounds, and trying to stay in the shade. I am fairly sure that Spain is hotter than Portugal, but really, when you’re the frog in the pot of boiling water, at a certain point, it doesn’t matter.
The tile work here just knocks me out. I mean, c’mon. How can you resist just sitting for a few minutes and watching the world go by?
Back on the ferry again, which provided a wonderfully cool breeze for ten minutes, then we were back in VRSA. We went through some more shops, including a kitchenware shop that had all sorts of gadgets, as well as some very nice quality cookware and ceramic-ware. I kept myself out of the Portuguese linen shops—I’m saving those for when a particular friend comes back to visit. And I found a hardware store, but not the plumbing part I was looking for.
We hiked back up to the train station, stopping once again at the little restaurant by the station for water and coffee and good conversation. The gentleman there let me try out my halting Portuguese on him and he managed not to laugh too much. Most of the people who interface with the general public speak more than enough English to get by. They are also likely to speak French, Spanish, and German. I really need to up my game.
A quick ride on the train and I was back in Tavira. Public transportation is pretty good here, though sometimes the buses get sketchy. The train workers have been striking intermittently over the past few months but they let you know in advance which days and hours they are going to strike. It’s very civilized in that they try not to inconvenience people more than necessary. Sometimes I miss having a car, but for the most part, it would sit idle. Public transportation serves fairly well.
I do a lot more walking here than I did in the States. On Thursday, I had tried to find one particular hardware store in Tavira. My friend Jay says the shortest distance between two points is the way you know. He is right. I knew of a hardware store kind of up and behind the train station but I thought this other one would be closer. Not so much. I wandered for miles in the heat, trying to walk a grid to find the place. (I detoured down to my favorite coffee place and got a milkshake to cool off.) I finally gave up on finding it and… went to the hardware store that I knew. If I had gone there first… well, let’s just say I got in about five miles of walking on Thursday and another five miles on Friday. And while I was drinking water the entire time, by the time I got home on Friday, I was pretty dehydrated. It took two days of forcing water to get myself back to normal.
But even in this heat, there are plenty of places to stop, relax, sit under an umbrella and have a coffee or a wine. No one rushes you, whether you are having a single beer or a full meal. Unlike US restaurants, they are not focused on turning the table over multiple times in a set period. No one is glaring at you to move or asking if you want additional food or drink. It’s relaxed. Downright languid. Which is just the right attitude for the dog days of summer.