Portugal. 50 things I learned on my travels.

My wife, Jane, and I got back from Portugal 3 days ago, and we’re just about back to normal after struggling with the time difference and travel. While we were away I kept a little journal so that I wouldn’t forget the wonderful sites we saw and the places we visited. I made the decision not to share any photos on Facebook because I didn’t want to turn it into a “Bragbook” and bore everyone to tears. In the coming days I’ll be putting a good selection of photos up on Pinterest for those who might find images of Portugal interesting, along with appropriate comments. I’ve included a few of my favourites in this post.

Beach front at Olhos de Agua on the eastern outskirts of Albufeira

Beach front at Olhos de Agua on the eastern outskirts of Albufeira

Oh yes .. and of course I have to pop on to Trip Advisor to give comments about some of the restaurants and cafes.
As we prepared to come home, and on the flight too, I made notes about the things that I learned on this journey. I’ll try to be as succinct as possible so as not to overstay my welcome.
1. On departing, I learned that Toronto Terminal 3 is akin to a cattle farm. The departures area in particular was loud, and littered with bad eating spots. I took 2 bites of a sandwich (beef on marble rye, with lettuce, mayo and pickle) and threw it away. It was soggy, past it’s edible date, and to make matters worse it cost me $14.00. My advice, take your own sandwich.
2. In Portugal, I didn’t have a wine I didn’t like … and we sampled many.
3. A good bottle of wine can cost as little as $4 to $7.
4. Breads and buns are to die for. Fresh bakeries abound they far surpass the “big brands”.
5. Even the smallest bistro will sell you outstanding baked goods and sweet treats.
Small cafe near Oura.  Excellent food

Small cafe near Oura. Excellent food

6. Coffee with steamed milk was a new experience for me … I will miss it, for sure. The Delta Cafes served a great selection of coffee servings.
7. Virtually all the people we met were friendly and helpful. Nice people. We did meet one or two who didn’t fit the profile, but that’s to be expected.
8. The geography is wonderful and varied .. it is an artist’s paradise.
St. Jerome.  Western most spot in Europe.  I

St. Jerome. Western most spot in Europe. I

9. Beaches (and there are hundreds of great beaches) have sand that can be like baker’s sugar or are rugged and granular. Every one is picturesque.
10. Portugal’s history is well documented wherever you travel, and it is fascinating to see and read about.
11. People are proud of their heritage and they display that in their festivals, markets, homes and their street art.
The Saturday market in Loule is great sport and full of great produce.

The Saturday market in Loule is great sport and full of great produce.

12. Streets and highways are very clean. I didn’t see a lot of litter. I finally realized it’s because they don’t have a lot of fast food joints pumping out food and drink containers that, in North America, some dolts toss out their window. In Portugal you go to a neighbourhood cafe, sit down for your coffee and talk to your neighbours. It’s a social thing.
Jane and Lynne enjoying a sidewalk cafe

Jane and Lynne enjoying a sidewalk cafe

13. We travelled on the Metro subway system in Lisbon and I was amazed at how very clean and in good repair the subway cars and stations were.
Many of the Metro stops had wonderful art on the walls

Many of the Metro stops had wonderful art on the walls

14. Graffiti artists create a blight in some areas of Lisbon. The defaced walls are in contrast to some of the wonderful art that abounds in the city.
15. Highway food (Super Highway A2) is just as bad as it is in Canada.
16. On the super highway, aside from trucks, the vast majority of cars were Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, BMW’s … estate vehicles are very popular.
17. At $2.00 a litre for gas, you better have a good reason for driving.
Lovely streets in Silves, north of Albufeira

Lovely streets in Silves, north of Albufeira

18. The A2 highway from Lisbon to the Algarve is a training ground for people who would like to set the land speed record.
19. Sheep love to share roads.
20. Shepherds tend their flocks by day as well as night.
21. Dogs are hugely popular in Portugal and it appeared to me that most of them were barking.
22. Throughout our stay we enjoyed very good to excellent meals at fair and affordable prices. We had one unfortunate incident with a place that said it served the best pizza. They lied.
The Moor Castle sits on the high ground in Silves

The Moor Castle sits on the high ground in Silves

23. Some of the rocks washed up on shore are ballast from fishing boats. My good friend, Bob Morrow, a geographer, noted that the rocks types in many instances are not from shore types.
24. In the towns and cities of Portugal they make some great sidewalks on the main streets. Some were 15 to 25 feet wide. That encourages a pedestrian lifestyle. Many were made of 3″ by 3″ squared stones, arranged in attractive patterns. It was a joy to be on foot.
One of the main street sidewalks in Loule

One of the main street sidewalks in Loule

25. If you take the Metro (green line) to Cais do Sodre, go across the street to what looks like an old market building. There is a food court there that will blow you mind. It’s all good food, available with wine of course.
26. The Portuguese love to talk to each other and often it is lively and passionate … easily heard a block away. I loved it.
The rear porch of the home that we were staying in.  Perfect for that morning coffee.

The rear porch of the home that we were staying in. Perfect for that morning coffee.

27. I was sad to hear that, for an industrious people, they have about 20% unemployment.
28. Their president just got 11 years in jail for dealings that were not in keeping with the office. Did anyone go to jail for the gas plant fiasco in Ontario? No, I don’t think so. In fact, if I remember rightly, our premiere got out while the going was good and got a plum job at Harvard. Hmmmm.
The old city of Albufeira.  Not an inch of wasted space.

The old city of Albufeira. Not an inch of wasted space.

29. Girls on highways are not hitch hiking. They are working for pimps. Many of them have been kidnapped or coerced from other countries, or are runaways. Police are diligent about routing out the criminals and send the girls back home. Shocking to know these criminal acts exist.
30. In the Algarve the toll highway is the A24. If you don’t have a transponder you pay at a post office. This can be time consuming if the workers are engaged in convivial conversation with their customers.
31. The toll highway from Lisbon to the Algarve costs about $28.00 … and it goes 10 times as far (I think) as the ETR. Much better value for money.
Every corner reveals an new and fascinating street.

Every corner reveals an new and fascinating street.

32. I don’t know if was the change of diet, the increase in wine consumption, or different water, but regularity was never a problem.
33. I was shocked to learn that you can make just about anything out of cork. Men’s ties, aprons, bags, hats, watch bands, purses, dresses … and yes, wine corks. Cork products abound but they are not cheap. Cork comes from the lower portions of the cork tree and it takes about 9 years for the tree to resurface its bark. Cork tree farms are interesting to see.
34. Ceramic tiles are an art and they are found everywhere, facings for homes and businesses as well as interiors. They are beautiful.
If it weren't for the fear of excess baggage you could go wild in all the shops.

If it weren’t for the fear of excess baggage you could go wild in all the shops.

36. Supper time doesn’t get rolling for most people until after 8pm. It wasn’t unusual to see families coming into a restaurant (kids included) as we were leaving.
37. Orange trees, lemon trees, fig trees, tangerine trees, cumquat trees are everywhere. Mmmm, great oranges. It wasn’t unusual to see hedges of bougainvillea. Lovely colour where ever you go.
I don't know what this multi-coloured bush is but I want one!

I don’t know what this multi-coloured bush is but I want one!

A close up of the mystery bush

A close up of the mystery bush

38. Our mouths dropped open at the sight of storks nests on top of huge hydro towers. Sometimes there were 4 and 5 nests on a tower .. like apartment buildings.
Stork on nest on top of tower.

Stork on nest on top of tower.

39. Fish and more fish, and lots of pork on menus. It was all good and at times great.
40. Piri Piri chicken can make your eyebrows sweat. But it’s worth it.
41. You can spend Euros at the same rate as dollars … just remember, there’s a 30% hit on your wallet with each Euro.
42. It broke my heart when we had to leave a fresh bag of almonds on the airplane … I’m afraid of the Canadian Border Service.
Ornate gates and security walls all commonplace.

Ornate gates and security walls all commonplace.

43. It strikes me that to learn Portuguese would be challenging … particularly for a guy who struggled through high school French.
44. You drive on the right hand side of the road, so there’s no adjusting for North American drivers.
45. A GPS device (Garmin) really helps if you’re driving … or walking.
The Gypsy Market in Loule was quite a unique and fun experience.

The Gypsy Market in Loule was quite a unique and fun experience.

46. Lisbon Airport (Terminal 1) makes you go through duty free to get to the departure gates .. pretty sneaky, but smart.
47. Departure gates are away from the shops and the food and, as a result, they tend to be quieter and with less confusion. Nice airport.
48. We flew on SATA. Very nice people. No video or audio services so take a book. Bonus, they offered wine with every meal at no cost. Stopping in the Azores was brief but interesting.
49. There are lots of Brits and many Canadians who have found Portugal great for extended stays. I can understand that.
50. One visit to Portugal is not enough. Would we go back? In a heartbeat.
A windmill home sits on one of the many rolling hills.

A windmill home sits on one of the many rolling hills.

Radio story #4: The “Hawk”

Ronnie-Hawkins1Before we get to Ronnie Hawkins and the summer’s night concert at the Alexandra I should set the stage. The Alexandra was a roller rink on the edge of Hamilton’s downtown. It opened on Christmas Day 1906. It was a popular entertainment spot that featured skating, dancing, big band music and some great rock n’ roll concerts. The roller rink is no more. It closed down in April 1964 and was torn down soon thereafter and replaced with an office complex called the Undermount.

You can’t be too surprised that the Alex was torn down … it was a fire hazard waiting for a match. It was basically a wood structure and inside you were held captive by the high walls that enclosed it. At one end of the rink there was a stage and this where many an artist entertained weekend audiences.

I can remember, as a young teenager, taking the bus with friends down to the Alex. We were all roller skaters. old roller skates We’d been doing it since we were in public school. We skated to school, we skated the streets in the evenings and we had lots of skinned parts on our body to prove our dedication. The Alex was special .. you rented boot skates with hardwood wheels … wow, what an experience. skates copy We felt so grown up, in the downtown, with the music playing and holding hands with our current female friend. Sweet times. roller rink ticket

I’d been at the station about a year and, at just 20 years of age, I was at the centre of the rock n’ roll excitement … and at times, just a little overtaken by it all. Ronnie Hawkins was coming to town to do a concert at the Alex and the station said that the promoter had asked if I would be the Emcee. It was a paying gig and it was Ronnie Hawkins – of course I would do it. I loved those guys.ronnie hawkins 3

It was a hot summer’s eve and inside the Alex it was getting steamy as the throng of teenagers arrived. The wooden floor and wooden walls held the heat adding to the energy of this highly anticipated event. No breeze, no air conditioning just a thick humidity that was quickly losing it’s oxygen as the crowd grew. It was going to be a sold out night and when everyone started dancing the place would be just thrumming (is that a word?) with energy.

I could feel my nervous energy starting to build. I was all decked out in my bright blue station jacket, white shirt and formal bow tie … wow, I felt like a pretty slick dude. There were a few hello’s as I pushed through the crowd, a few nice glances from some of the young ladies, and squinted eyes from their dates. Yeh, typical Saturday night. ronnie hawkins 2I climbed the wooden stairs and went to what they called backstage. It was really a storage area of some sort, that doubled as a place where acts could relax before going on. I made my introduction to Ronnie and the members of the band. They were pleasant towards me but I could tell that my station outfit relegated me to “outsider” status with this band of jolly rogues. Despite their thin assessment of me it was all very polite and, we agreed, it was going to be a hot night. After a brief back and forth it was time to do some rock n roll.

The stage at the Alexandra was not the biggest in the city but it was big enough for bands and rock groups to put on some great shows. Tonight would be no different. I went out on stage, introduced myself, made some not-so-memorable comments and received a good round of cheers and applause mixed in with a few hoots. All in all it felt like a good start. As I introduced Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks the volume level went off the scale. The crowd went wild. Ronnie-Hawkins2 I started to worry that the nails might come out of the walls and the whole place would fall on our heads. Ronnie and the band took over the stage and for the next hour they just sent everyone into a dancing, cheering frenzy. Meanwhile, the temperature kept rising. It was probably more than 80F in the old Alex and getting hotter. Inside my station jacket hell had taken hold and my shirt was stuck to my body, adding to the rush of perspiration down my legs. Even my socks were soaked.

It came time for the blessed break and we all went back to the little room behind the stage. Ronnie and the band sat down on some wooden chairs, pulling them into a horseshoe. Quick as a bunny, out came a 26’er of scotch. Each of the guys took a shot. They talked about the first set, what was good, the cute girls, the heat, the next set .. and on, for about 15 minutes. I was the outsider in the group, keeping an eye on the time and, though I was offered a shot, I was drinking water. Once the break time finished I asked the Ronnie if I could introduce the second half.
“Hell no boy! We’re not done our break”. This was directed at me as a new round of shots was being poured out for the group. I could hear the murmur of the audience, anticipating the start of the second set. What was I going to do? Ronnie gave me the direction, “Just go out and entertain them for a bit.”

I’d never done improv or stand up. I was pretty fair at adlibbing but I never expected to go out in front of a crowd and, on the spur of the moment, be entertaining or, at the very least, interesting.

I strolled onto the stage, enjoying the enthusiastic welcome of this mass of teenagers. I knew it wasn’t for me. It was for the start of the show. I felt a little awkward knowing what I knew. I did the expected things a young jock does. You know. “Is everyone having a great time” That’s such a lovely slowball pitch. Everyone can hit that. The crowd responds. “You all look so fabulous tonight and you dance like you’re on American Bandstand” Another nice pitch. It get the expected yeas and cheers. From here on in it is very uphill. I don’t know what I said or did but I managed to do some bits that had them laughing and applauding for almost 15 minutes. It was really a case of “do it” or “you die”. By the last quip or two the crowd was no longer amused. Not even slightly. They were there for Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, not this perspired d.j. with fear in his eyes. As I quickly exited the stage, I promised them Ronnie was coming. The crowd was in its own frenzy, chanting “we want Ronnie”, over and over and over.
ronnie hawkins 1
Backstage the party was going just fine. It was obvious that another shot or two had been shared. I said to Ronnie “OK guys, it’s time to hit the stage”. One of the band members said, “but the bottle isn’t empty yet and we ain’t goin’ on until it’s done.” In a very squeeky voice I shrieked “if you don’t get out on that stage right now, they are going to kill me!” I remember those words so precisely all these years later. They were uttered not so much out of fear as they were out of frustration.

In that moment Ronnie Hawkins stood up and, with a good humoured smile and laughing voice, said to the Hawks “Come on guys, let’s go save this boy’s life.”

I went out on stage, with the crowd watching closely, and they could sense that they were going to be granted what they had been chanting for for the last five minutes. I introduced Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks and the band and I were rewarded with a deafening cheer. The band jumped in and blew the house down ’till pretty well all the oxygen in the old Alex was pretty well spent, and I was left with another memorable moment to look back on all these years later with my own good humoured smile.
Ronnie hawkins 4

Radio Story #3: The Bomb!

1960 saw CKOC, like many radio stations, move to the popular music/news format. Television had killed old time radio by taking away the dramas, quiz shows and soap operas. CKOC became a Hit Parade Station and “OC The Busy Bee” was born. I joined the station in 1962 to become a small part of the station’s Rock ‘n Roll era.
ckoc images from album_0004
I loved summer. Sunny days with ice cream clouds and steamy, humid nights were just made for rock ‘n roll. There was a special magic to the music of summer. (in the picture to the left I’m seated on the ground enjoying a Dairy Queen Block Party with the other OC guys) The tempo and the tone changed when summer rolled around. We DJ’s, suffered through the winter and early spring just waiting for the first arrivals of promo discs and the summer music that would once again propel us through the greatest season of the year. Heat Wave, Under the Boardwalk, California Girls, Wipeout, Let’s Twist Again, Green Onions and on and on and on … each year a new collection of memorable hits.

CKOC was located at 73 Garfield Ave South in the east end of Hamilton. It was a 2-storey building originally built by Bell Telephone to house the Garfield Exchange. Over the years the building had also served as offices for the steel company and as a school for the blind.

I was on the 6 to midnight shift in 1963 and ’64. It runs in my mind that this particular event happened in 1964. It was one of those fine evenings, you know the type, the pavement was still hot from the day, the shadows were getting longer and there was a sense of ease as the quiet of the evening started to permeate the neighbourhoods of Hamilton. Meanwhile, in the studio, we were pumping out great songs from our “sensational sixty”, the play list of the best songs of the moment.
ckoc images from album_0001
I was in my first hour, six to seven pm. There were still a few people around the station, finishing up for the day. This was not unusual, considering that we lived and breathed radio. Acolytes of the medium. The studio was a large room on the second floor of the building, probably about twenty by twenty and from my perch in main control I had two announce booths in front of me, another “news” booth behind me, a door that led to the hall, with a small window, to my right, and racks of equipment to my left. My window on the world was limited, but through that tiny door window I could see people as they walked by the door.

This particular evening I became aware of quite a bit of activity in the hall. Even when I was on the air I could tell, from my peripheral vision, that there was more traffic than normal for seven forty-five in the evening. While one of the songs was playing I poked my head out into the hall to see what was going on. A policeman was in the hall! What?!
cndn cop
I asked, “what’s going on officer?”

He came back to the studio door and then stepped into main control. His body language suggested he wanted a private conversation. I thought we’d been raided, or someone was arrested, which, in those days, wouldn’t have surprised me in the least. The policeman was a big man, about six three. He was in full uniform and had his cap at a serious angle. I was impressed, and a touch anxious, at the size of the revolver strapped to his hip.

His first few words would stun me.

“Sir, I don’t want you to be afraid or unduly concerned, but there has been a bomb threat.”

I was immediately and duly concerned. “Whaaat? What on earth”, I exclaimed.

“Well sir, the caller said they had placed a bomb in the building and it is due to go off at seven p.m.”
7pm copy
My eyes snapped to the large clock on the front wall. It was 6.50 p.m.

“Don’t worry about it, we’re pretty sure it’s a hoax, so, please, just continue on with what you are doing.”

With that confidence building comment having been shared, he left the studio. I could barely believe it. Carry on with what you are doing. Right. Easy for him to say. He left the room and went someplace safe I’m sure.

I went on the air and with my mind in a bit of a blur, and keeping one eye on the clock, I announced the next tune. The clock approached 6.55 p.m. I knew I would have time for one more song before we went up to detonation time. End of song, some words were uttered, I thought of saying goodbye to everyone “If I die, know I love you all!” As the next song came on, I became aware of the fact that in the last seven minutes I hadn’t seen anyone in the hall and the policeman hadn’t come back to see if I was hyperventallating. I was.
While my final song was on, not knowing if would be my final, final song, I went out into the hall. Empty. No one there. I called out. No answer. I went to the window to look down to Garfield Avenue to see if anyone was there. They were ALL there. people with colour copy The firemen, the ambulance, CKOC staffers, neighbours and even my nice policeman and his friends in blue were there too. And they were all looking up at ME. No one waved or said “good luck.” They just stared, as if they were waiting for me to become nanoparticles when the magical hour rolled around.
I went back into the studio, sat down at the console and watched as the clock ticked the seconds off. That last half minute of time seemed to take a lifetime. When the clock hit seven p.m. and nothing happend, I finally exhaled. I’m not sure why I was holding my breath. Perhaps I was just enjoying my last breath to the fullest.

At 7.02 p.m. the policeman came back into the studio and proudly announced, it was a hoax. “I told you.” I wanted to tell him he was a chickenshit for not keeping me company in those final moments. I didn’t. He had the big gun.

… and at 7.15 p.m. the hits just kept on rollin!IMG_0055


I’m liking this guy. There’s attitude in those eyes. Kinda reminds me of the wolf howl that took place each week during the summer up at Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Preserve. This guy looks like he might be replying to some distant invitation. As the wolf dries there’ll be more detail and cleaning up. I plan to handpaint him prior to bisque, and then give him the black unglaze wash. Should pop out the detail beautifully. Into the kiln on Tuesday (after some of the family has had a nice long weekend in Haliburton.)DSC03036


It may be wet outside but things are drying up in the studio

It’s taken a few days for things to dry up. Cecil, in particular, because of his size and clay content has taken about 6 days to fully dry out. Time to do some underglaze work before he goes into the kiln.


A new bear, I call him the “fishing bear”, has formed very nicely, and he is just about dried. The base will receive an underglaze wash but other than that he’s ready for stage 1 firing.


There’s a joy watching things come together and taking the time to enjoy the journey. Hearing the national and international news in a morning it’s always a delight to sequester myself away, with a lump of clay, and allow better thoughts to occupy my mind.

Back into the studio this morning to do some prep work for the next project. Frogs are involved. It’s a bit tricky, the idea that I have, but I think that with a bit of ingenuity it can work (from an engineering standpoint.) Stay tuned. Also, making a drop mold for when our grand daughters arrive on the weekend (sans parents.) We have a page of options for the girls so I’m sure they’ll find something they’d like to work on with “grumpa”.

Cecil is progressing nicely

Cecil, is an upper crust bunny, well known amongst the more refined of the animal kingdom. He, Billy Badger and Ginger Toad gather each week to discuss issues of common interest. In this `snapshot` in time, we find Cecil, in his smoking jacket enjoying a favourite cigar. He is in the process of making a point to his friends.


With basic assembly done, the fine work begins followed by the bisque firing, hand painting and then the clear glaze firing. Another week and Cecil should be quite fine indeed. As one would expect with an upper crust bunny, Cecil is a commissioned piece, thus his stay at our humble abode will be short, but sweet.

New clay sculpture .. Elephant

Ready to go for first firing … my elephant. I’ve been wanting to have a go creating an elephant for almost a year now. My cousin Ros has a lovely collection of elephants as does Pat (my mother’s cousin’s dear wife.) I admired their displays while Jane and I were in England last year. So many sad stories have been reported in the past while about mistreatment of these massive yet sensitive animals. I wanted to reflect their spirit in the piece.
I like what I see thus far.
A personal project is this handsome cigar ash tray. It should be the envey of knowledgeable puffers.
Also in the works, a rather complex commissioned piece … hope to be on top of that by next week. More to come.

The “Restin’ Rabbit” is sitting pretty.

A dark wash to enhance and a light glaze to his clothes and he is all done. I’m pleased with the result. The little guy makes me want to slow down a notch and contemplate what’s going on in the furry reaches of his mind. He’s thinking, that’s for sure. Perhaps he’s concluded that “sitting down on the job” is OK once in a while.

Now he can look for a nice home.

Opera in the beautiful Haliburton Highlands

The Highlands Opera Studio is quite an amazing undertaking, and it all happens between July 31st and August 28th.

For anyone not from the Haliburton Highlands the notion of world class opera in the midst of lakes and forests may seem a little odd. We find it quite appropriate for our very creative region.

It all began seven years ago when Valerie Kuinka and Richard Margison decided to start a program for very advanced emerging operatic artists. They wanted to concentrate not only on the goals of performance excellence, but also on networking and potential employment opportunities for young singers. All the young Canadian artists attending the month-long intensive program are on full scholarship. Participants are chosen through a rigorous cross-Canada (and NYC) audition tour. They end up listening to close to 200 applicants. On average, 15 highly qualified participants are chosen. These lucky participants bunk in with local families and get to enjoy some of the delights of our region.

Poster copy

The community of the Haliburton Highlands and surrounding areas have enthusiastically welcomed the program. The calendar provides lots of community interaction and audience education through opera pre-performance chats, concerts in local churches, and short concerts in local venues(Random Acts of Opera.) Three years ago the Highlands Opera Community School was established offering voice lessons, masterclasses, the opportunity to observe the Opera Studio participants, and potential involvement in the staged productions.

Tickets for the concerts are $30.00 and for the operas $35.00. Unheard of prices for this level of excellence. If you’re thinking that a little culture with your summer getaway might be a delicious combination … come and stay a while. Tickets will be going fast so don’t delay.