Our adventures in Portugal

We discovered during our 3 weeks in the Algarve that Southern Portugal in late summer has endless sunny days with very little rain. On the one occasion it thundered, one of our animal charges, Riya a 5 year old rescue dog hid under the table as soon as she heard the distant rumble. Riya is a sweet dog who enjoys attention and daily walks in the park by her house and around the neighbourhood. We observed many dogs wandering the streets but most appeared to have homes with owners who allowed them to roam much like we do with cats in New Zealand.

The other pet in our care was Catus or Cactus as he is also affectionally known for his prickly disposition. His owner warned us in her house manual about his half metre personal space boundary. Richie assumed this was an exaggeration and decided to tempt fate on his first day by breaching the safety zone, quickly learning a lesson as Catus swiped his outstretched hand. Over the following weeks Catus warmed to us slowly, mostly at meal times, and eventually we got in a couple of pats and convinced him it was safe to sit next to us on the couch just outside the personal space limit. Catus is definitely the dominant pet in the house, and we amusingly watched him and Riya have many stand-offs, which he always won, when they wanted to pass each other in opposite directions.

While Kiwis back home savoured any early spring sunshine that raised the temperature above 10 degrees, we enjoyed several boat trips to 2 of the 3 beaches accessible from our port town Olhao. On both these tiny islands we strolled past cute whitewashed Mediterranean styled houses and several small restaurants before arriving at white sandy beaches lined with welcoming looking deck chairs and umbrellas to shade beach dwellers from the sun's harsh rays. Twice we also ventured to Faro, a 10 minute train ride to catch a boat to swim and sunbathe on the stunning uninhabited Ilha Deserta (by far our favourite of the islands). We could only stay for a few hours each time as we needed to get back to Riya but we still managed to get sunburnt on at least one occasion.

We mostly ate at home to save money for the culinary delights awaiting us on other countries, but had several memorable meals in Olhao, with our favourite Vai e Volta the #1 rated local restaurant on www.tripadvisor.com This small dining establishment only opensfrom 12-3pm and its tables fill up quickly while hungry onlookers get turned away or wait for a table to become vacant. Luckily we arrived just before noon. They barbecue whole fish on a grill, and for 10 Euros diners are served as much fish as they want, along with bread, salad and several condiments. Although seeing the eyes of the meat we ate starring up at us from our plates made us a little squeamish, we liked the restaurant's simple food concept and the value for money they provided.

A highlight from our time in Portugal was a trip to Faro where we took part in a walking tour with probably the most knowledgable guide we encountered in Europe. He was passionate about Portuguese history and recalled tales from the cities past as we wandered from Faro's old town to more modern neighbourhoods. Faro's evolution is similar to many other European cities in that it was conquered by the Romans, Visigoths and Moors during different periods. Portugal was even ruled by a dictatorship from 1926-1974, but today is democratic and considered fairly liberal.