Along the Yellow Brick Road in Lagos – Portugal, Europe

"Why you go to Portugal?" one of my students asked me. "What about Semana Santa in Seville?" she hit the nail on the head. What about Semana Santa in Seville? I had seen it last year. It was amazing, but once was enough.

Lazy Lagos was calling me
Luckily for me living in Seville, Lagos was only a five-hour bus ride away along the Algarve coast. It was my first holiday with my Spanish girlfriend; we were looking forward to a change of scenery. "It’s amazing how much of a culture change it is when you get over there", I was told by a work colleague. "It’s certainly laid back", he followed up, seemingly a little jealous he’d be stuck in Seville for the manic festival. After living in Andalusia for two years, I wondered how much more laid back people could be, I soon found out.

Normally the buses in Andalusia don’t have seatbelts, or at least I never use them. After about ten minutes along the road, we were strapping ourselves in. "This driver is crazy", Chia said as the Portuguese Arnold Schwarzenegger honked his horn for the third time. Arnie settled down once we were on the motorway; so did the passengers.

In no time we were coming up to the border. I had my passport ready for the inspection, but there was nothing. We crossed over a big bridge and the road signs changed to Portuguese. There wasn’t even a welcome sign. "These houses look sad, no?" Chia pointed as we passed through Tavira. It was astounding the difference the border made; Portugal seemed a good ten years or behind Spain. The cars looked older, the buildings looked older and the people, well they followed suit with their surroundings.

We stopped in Albufeira.

"It’s looks nice here," Chia said smiling out the window.

"Yeah, we’ll have to come back."

Then Arnie muttered something in Portuguese, but between a native Spanish speaker and a trainee, we couldn’t work out what he was saying.

"Que pasa?" I asked him what was happening.

"Tenemos que cambiar el Auto bus." We have to change bus.

"Porque?" Why, I asked.

"PORQUE," he said rather angrily, I remembered who I was dealing with. "Porque he terminado mi turno," he informed me he’d finished here.

"Ok, Ok," I said apologetically hoping he wouldn’t terminate me.

We hopped on another bus and were soon on the road again. We overheard a group of Americans who had been living in Seville for a short period. Luckily Chia couldn’t understand what they were saying because they were being rather rude about Spanish people and Seville, obviously forgetting that they weren’t the only people on the bus. I told her what they had been saying. "Typical stupid Americans," she replied. In this case I had to agree.

We finally arrived in Lagos. The temperature had come down a few notches; we put on the jackets we hoped we wouldn’t be using. The bus station wasn’t far from the main town; we walked along the river which was lit up nicely with a few boats in the harbour.

"Quiet isn’t it?" I said.

"Yes, where are the people?" Chia asked, a little confused.

"They’re probably getting ready or something, maybe they eat late here." At 9:30 on a Friday evening, it's bizarre," I said.

We reached a main square; a monument in the centre with a few emply restaurants. "Up this way," I signalled. We continued walking to find our accommodation. Then I spotted a couple with backpacks coming towards us.

"Hello," said the tall bloke.

"Hi, we’re looking for Casa Amarela."

"So are we," they giggled back.

"It must be here somewhere," I said. Then a flustered woman popped her head out into the street.

"Er, yes, hello, are you looking for Casa Amarela?" she asked us lifting her glasses off her nose "Come, Come, I am Elena," she motioned us to enter her small reception.

The walls were covered in old paintings of Lagos and other places along the coast. As she was explaining the whereabouts of the hostel, two girls arrived and squeezed in making the art gallery even cosier. She politely informed us of every possible restaurant there was available, and their menus. It was great advice but unfortunately, I didn’t have a typist or a tape recorder handy to capture all the tips.

I could see the two girls were getting a little restless. "Um, excuse me, sorry but do you think we could just go to our rooms, we’re a little tired?" At least she was honest enough to say what everyone else was thinking. Elena seemed a little miffed, though. "Well, if you can just wait one minute, I am nearly finished." The sighs were enough to flicker the candles out. Finally she ended; we squeezed out the doors to meet her husband, who took us up to where we were staying on the hill.

We got the best room in the house. It was an excellent double room with en suite and kitchen. The furniture was a dark oak brown. We had a huge bathtub, but no plug.

"Oh, this is very nice," Chia said beaming.

"Yeah, great spot, I saw a photo of this one, but thought it would be expensive. Not bad for 30 euros." It was a bargain.

We sat down and finished the burgers we had packed in the morning. We headed back out; it was so quiet, at 10.30 on a Friday night. All we could hear were our own voices. We walked down the cobbled streets, past a few empty restaurants. The owners looked bored; sat up once they spotted us, then slumped down as we went past. I was looking forward to some Portuguese beer.

I led Chia into a typical English bar; a fun little place where everyone was enjoying themselves. It was good hearing familiar voices and laughter. There were pictures of Del Boy and the gang. I introduced Chia to them explaining each of their characters in turn. Then I realised she hadn’t come to Lagos to find out that Albert was a moany old git, and Roders was a bit of a plonker, so we stayed for one beer and left.

The next morning we had breakfast in a quiet restaurant: the menu was in every language, apart from Spanish, quite the norm we discovered. There was a monument of King Sebastian nearby. He died in Morocco, in the 16th century, after he tried to take over. He turned into a bit of a legend because a couple of the soldiers he was fighting with returned from the battle, which led the public to believe that one day he would return and help Portugal, if ever they were in trouble. The legend remains alive. It seems Portugal hasn’t needed help since then; maybe he will return one day.

We made our way up Rua 25 de Abril; dotted with souvenir shops and various restaurants. The relaxed atmosphere started to kick in as we noticed people were lazily opening up their shops and setting out their tables and chairs hoping for some customers. We trailed down to the main Avenida dos Descobrimentos which ran parallel to Rio Bensafrim. It was great to see the sea and beach again; stretching out facing the Atlantic, quiet and tranquil.

The Yellow Brick Road in Lagos
The Yellow Brick Road in Lagos

Our first stop was the Fortaleza da Ponta da Bandeira, which was constructed in the 17th century to protect the port. It appeared small and weak, but it had been powerful enough to stop Francis Drake from attacking the city one time. The lady at the reception desk looked shocked to see people so early. At the top we spotted Lagos in its full glory; it looked sleepy – no movement. To the left we had our first glimpse of the famous golden cliffs; like giant blocks of honeycomb carved specially to lead the way along the coastline. We went down to the beach to get a closer look. A golden path followed the coastline; similar to honeycomb blocks around the Emerald City, in this case the Ponta da Piedade, which was a lookout point.

Boats for Munchkins in the Emerald City
Boats for Munchkins in the Emerald City

As we followed the path, it seemed never ending. There were about twenty different small beaches hidden amongst the honeycomb, where you could take cover and chill out for the day. We reached the lookout point; the closest we reached to anything emerald; clear sea glistening below as we stood at the furthest point in Lagos. Down below we watched little Munchkins taking turns on boat trips around the rocks. We considered going, but the skies opened up. We took shelter in a restaurant. From there, we stopped at the Museu Municipal which had a piece of the Berlin wall inside. Unfortunately the piece of Berlin wall wasn’t on show, so we settled for various pottery artefacts, dinosaur teeth, a selection of dangerous knives and some opium pipes.

The Santo Antonio Church and the museum were connected. The most impressive aspect was the wooden carvings and baroque style painted ceiling which appeared almost three dimensional. The old part of town was surrounded by an ancient wall, used for protection until an earthquake hit Lisbon in 1755. A tsunami struck Lagos: sixty to ninety thousand people were killed. Parts of the wall have been rebuilt; some of it still in tact and serving its purpose.

We had a hard time locating a restaurant that was open, or not closing, at 10:00 p.m. Some bloke recommended one on the corner. As we entered, everyone looked at us as if to say they must be Spanish dining this late, and continued on with their meals. Our waiter did not look happy to see us, realising he would be working a longer shift that expected. We snapped the bargain set menu for 11 euros, eating quickly as the place was emptying out.

The walk along the yellow brick road and tour of Lagos had knackered us out. The next day we were headed for Sagres – the furthest southerly point in Portugal. But right now, there was no place like our hostelry on the hill.

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