The Algarve (southern Portugal) – Vacation Week 1
Welcome to Portugal! Please be sure to hold tightly to all of your belongings at all times – even when they are squirmy.
Our plan was fairly simple: take almost three weeks off in December and explore the southern Iberian peninsula. I was excited but a little pesimisstic. How would the kids adjust to the time zone? How would they handle the strange food? Being on the road so much? Living in hotels?
Surprise! They were the best travelers of all of us, I think. They explored everywhere we went – sometimes so much so that I was scared out of my mind. But we learned an awful lot about each other and how different travel is with little kids.
We landed in Lisbon after a short 6-hour flight from Boston. Six hours may not seem short as you’re reading this, but I found myself wishing it was longer. The flight left at 6:40pm, which was far too early to coax anyone to sleep. The kids managed to get about an hour total, and the rest of us got none at all. That meant that we were completely bleary-eyed and cranky the first day. A real shame given that we spent it in Sintra, a beautiful little town northwest of Lisbon. It will have to be revisited under better conditions.
The kids became obsessed with fountains on this trip. Every place we went, they had to search for one, and then examine it closely to see how it functioned. And dip fingers in. Luckily there were fountains basically everywhere. We even started dealing with tantrums by saying, “Hey, let’s go see if they have any fountains here.”
A little shopping. Actually this is the bulk of the shopping we did. I had high hopes of picking up a few curiosities for our house, but the time just didn’t present itself. Next trip, I guess!
Mina finally dropped in the afternoon. I was carrying her on my shoulders and suddenly felt her bobbing around up there. I pulled her down and found that she’d fallen asleep sitting up! Luckily Grandpa was happy to carry her. He’s rather taken with the wee beastie.
We prowled all over this big garden. Linus doesn’t let giant steps stop him.
Sintra’s roads were fairly alarming – particularly given that we were driving a minivan. Here I am trying to stay on the sidewalk and away from the cars. We actually saw full-size tour buses traveling these streets. It makes your heart stop a little bit.
Settling into the hotel. We brought a final selection of toys to keep the kids busy. Mina has learned to run TV remotes, and of course Linus was mainly interested in the HVAC systems.
We got extremely lucky with our accommodations – lucky to have the ability to stay in such great places.
Ria Formosa Natural Park, Olhao
The weather, as you can see, was perfect – mostly mid-60s by the afternoon. That meant we spent most of our days strolling around. Here we were at a nature preserve.
Mina’s running so hard both feet are off the ground!
Checking out Portuguese ducks.
The walkway Linus is on leads to an old tidal mill. You can imagine how excited he was to get inside and see all of the wheels.
Here’s a major difference between traveling as a couple and traveling with kids: you have to stop by every playground you find. Luckily slides and swings are pretty universal. There were a few occasions when Linus tried to communicate with another kid (or vice versa). They were all fairly undeterred by the language barrier. I guess “No, I was playing here first” can be universally communicated with body language.
We encountered quite a few nativity scenes – one of the fun parts of traveling during Christmas. Linus was pleased to discover that many of them included a windmill or watermill. This particular one was inside a fire station. They let you just wander in off the street and check it out.
Speaking of wandering, Mina loved roaming the streets. Often she did her happy-floppy walk, which I guess is sort of a dance?
Here are the kids inside a museum. I was a basketcase every time we did something like this – I was convinced they’d destroy a priceless antique. They were great, though. A little rambunctious, but pretty well behaved. I did find that exploring museums and sites with them caused me to see things differently. You notice details that you never would have seen before – sometimes because they’re down at kid-level, and sometimes because it’s an area of fascination for them. Gears and turning things for Linus, cats for Mina.
Roman mosaic. Grandpa was pretty excited about it. We told him that he should really go to Ostia next.
Well, while they did great as I said, sometimes it was easier to just extract them. Here I’ve taken the kids and left the museum. We sat outside watching cats and eating digestive biscuits. Not a bad way to pass half an hour.
The kids spent more time lying on streets, sidwalks, and floors than I really would have liked. By the end of the visit her jacket was basically grey. But I suppose it helped their immune systems (can you believe no one got even a cold while we were away?!), and they seemed to enjoy it (except when they were down there because of a tantrum).
Lounging at lunch. That’s my wine in the foreground!
Meals were a bit of a struggle, I must admit. Both Portuguese and Spanish like to take their time at meals, and we wanted to do the same. The kids weren’t having it. We brought lots of toys, but there were quite a few embarrassing incidents, and one broken plate.
This is a photo Mina took when she discovered Yen’s camera on the ground under the table.
Typical Portuguese food: tons of different seafood backed together in a big pot with a tomato-based broth and the softest potatoes you’ll ever eat outside of Peru. The kids loved it, actually. Linus in particular is very into cockles. Too bad they’re so hard to come by here.
This photo was taken a half mile from our hotel. It claims to be the longest wooden bridge in Europe. I can’t confirm this. But I can confirm that if you walk all the way down it, you’ll come to a large dune and then the Atlantic. Grandma and Grandpa started or ended most days here.
Have trucks, will travel!
When you tell people you’re going to the Algarve, they invariably tell you take a boat tour. We weren’t able to do that (imagine Mina trapped on a small boat for 90 minutes; echoes of The Bounty, I’m sure), but we did visit the beaches and were rather stunned by the beauty (and winded by the climb).
These kids! They certainly got tired and asked to be carried a fair amount, but I was incredibly impressed by how much walking and climbing they did.
Grandma actually asked to have her photo taken! Wish we’d managed to get them to pose for a few more.
Mina terrorized all of the cats she found. Poor things.
This was taken right before the cat broke into a flat-out run.
After a very delicious lunch right by the water, we ventured onto a beach. And we learned an important lesson: always pack a spare set of clothes. I turned the kids pant-legs up and took off their shoes and socks, but Linus went all in.
Can’t wait for the kids to be old enough for us to do something like this!
Mina explored the caves while Linus explored the tide pools. She does love enclosed spaces.
I gave up eventually and took off his pants, letting him roam in his underwear.
As much as we hate Florida, we’ve decided a mini-break in February is probably in order. We’ve got a Southwest credit to use, so we might as well. Then we can go into the water all he likes.
Back up the stairs. Bothe kids climbed the entire way on their own!
Back at the hotel, the kids checked out the fan on our balcony.
Here’s our view from the same. Too bad the pool wasn’t heated.
Later the kids stripped down for some ice cream.
There are storks everywhere on the Iberian peninsula! Apparently they’re very social animals and always nest in large groups.
Linus does not like churches. He says they’re “a little bit scary.” He’s right, really – the imagery is kind of disturbing. I guess it’s meant to instill fear and piety. It certainly handled the former for him.
About to collect a stick, I think.
Oh, my poor heart! Happy that the kids are tenatious enough to climb all over castle walls, but my god… I actually didn’t sleep well for most of the vacation because I’d close my eyes at night and see a child running into the street or over the side of a wall. I’m not good at relaxing, I guess.
Mina is still teeny for her age. She’s been walking for a year now (as you know), but she still surprises people when they first see her dashing around. I honestly don’t know how she manages stairs higher than her own knee.
Maybe it’s her intense exercise routine, including all these deep squats. I have become obsessed with squatting as a cure for my chronic hip pain. Luckily my two trainers remind me frequently throughout the day that I need to practice.
Yen found us a little Roman villa to explore. It turned out to have rather famous fish mosaics. With little spiral-shaped designs that delighted Linus.
Mina… Well, she liked the sticks.
The kids loved this beach. Shells everywhere and lots of rocks to chuck. We were lucky it was there, as I ended up abandoning lunch to take them for a walk after Mina smashed a plate.
Sand castle nativity scene! Linus asked me, “Should we make on like that?” Sure…
Here I am trying to keep the kids distracted while we wait for food.
Worth waiting for!
Here’s Grandpa headed up to check out the view of the town from the old castle walls. Grandma is below, studying the plants. Of course!
Linus enjoyed the view too.
Mina chased this cat all over the place.
It finally ducked into a church for safety. Poor thing – it was the same church we were headed toward! It finally gave in and let Mina pet it a bit. Or at least touch.
The walls of most churches in this region are decorated with tiles.
Mina is incredibly helpful at managing my accessories.
This particular town is known for octopus fishing. I’m not generally a huge fan of octopus – if it’s cooked poorly, it just feels like a tire. The people of this town, though, know what they’re doing. It was so tender it was more like mushrooms than anything else. Plus the signage at our restaurant was adorable.
No, Grandpa didn’t have any.
After lunch, we headed to the beach. Mina expressed her lack of enthusiasm.
Everyone perked up when we discovered that this particular beach has a little train that runs from the parking area to the water.
I had no idea this was happening behind me.
The beach was really nice too – very long and smooth. Of course we’d brought extra clothes.
Extra clothes were a good idea because shortly after this video was taken, Linus got tackled by a huge wave and was wet head to toe.
Not sure of this is art or a memorial, but it was pretty amazing.
And that was our last day in the Algarve. The next morning, we packed up everything and headed for Sevilla.