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  • Eddie Hewitt

Portugal

Cultural connections in the Land of the Frango

Summer 2018. Time for one last vacational fling on the continent where I still belong, but not for much longer. And so, joyfully, I found myself on the Iberian peninsula.

Early July, and yet it was Hotter than July. Not as hot as it was in England, but I see that European temperatures are catching us up now; 45° in Portugal, close to 50° in inland Spain. That’s outrageous.

Heatwave - with Europe finally catching up

This has never happened before, but somehow I was abroad for the semi-final and the final of the World Cup. Yes, I was going away at the very time it was on the verge of coming home. Wishful thinking there. Maybe a touch of English arrogance, if there is such a thing.

Kane and Sterling: Six goals between them in Russia

But this is meant to be a piece on Portugal, not on what might have been for the national Harry Kane team. A return to the Algarve for me for the first time in a such a long time. Glorious beaches on the fringe of the North Atlantic, no care in the world about fishing rights, exquisite food and drink with sardine paste and olives to set up every meal (apart from the egg and chips sessions). Then there's the national hero. No, not Ronaldo. The Frango.

So many attractions: better to explore than to watch England score?

In Portugal, Frango rules the roost

Fowl play, you might cry, but let’s start with the fish:

Swordfish - grilled and not dry at all. My all-time favourite fish name

Sea Bream - a few too many bones but then it is a fish.

Sea Bass – a bit like sea bream but caught in deeper waters.

Salmon - a safe choice, but always rises to the occasion and delightfully succulent.

Cod ‘n’ chips from the traditional British style takeaway. Not a wise or healthy choice.

Shrimps - giant ones, semi-shelled. Sensational.

No sign of a knife let alone a sword, but here's my favourite fish

All cooked to perfection and delicious. Apart from the cod which looked yellow, as if it had been corn-fed and battered in corn-oil. Served by a scouser. Too heavy. Too stodgy. Not my kind of tradition. I prefer the European, lighter touch to cooking fish. There was just one minor disappointment with the seafood on holiday. Why is the sardine paste that you buy from the supermarket never quite the same as the pots they serve in the restaurants?

Back to the heat. Stepping out onto the balcony in the mornings was quite a challenge. A wall of heat to confront and scorching tiles not to linger on. I handled it. It takes a lot to keep a good Englishman out of the sun, though my eventual rich, golden tan started out as a traditional, embarrassing, rosbif pink. Alas, the French win on that score, too. Thank goodness for my long-lasting stetson from Lanzarote and my new Panama hat from the old town in Albufeira.

Sporting the latest addition to my extensive collection of hats (this Panama, a camel leather cowboy hat, and my Royal Ascot topper)

Now, about the heat in Russia. Sorry, I can’t avoid mentioning the World Cup again. I felt such a pleasant, unusual feeling, as an English tourist, of being respected and looked on more favourably, if not quite looked up to, merely because the England team had a chance of winning this time. Misjudged and misguided on both sides, no doubt. But a good year for Harrys: first Wales, with that wonderful ginger beard, in the match of the century at Windsor Castle, and then Kane and McGuire in Fifaworld. And surely Sterling must score, and I would find a big screen somewhere. For both matches.

In contrast, walking round the shopping district in Albufeira, there were only empty official Portugal football stores and lots of unwanted number seven shirts hanging on high. Shame.

And then the unthinkable happened. Kane only had to pass to Sterling. Instead he took on a tight angle and hit the post. Croatia made the most of their chances in the second half and England were shattered. Another pointless match against Belgium, a chance for Kevin De Bruyne to rub salt into the wound, and a trip back home empty-handed after all. Congratulations to France. And that man Mbappé. Impressive. Fancy a spell at the Etihad, Kylian?

Down and out in Russia and Albufeira.

Thankfully, Waistcoat Man was on hand to console us all

Time to move on once and for all. Onto the beaches.

For style and relaxation, with soft, hot, powdery sand and charming white sunshades, Praia da Rocha in Portimao was a must. Reminiscent of Viareggio in Italy.

Praia da Rocha

A second favourite was Praia do Peneco, the long strand to the west of Albufeira town. A welcome reward after a morning wandering around the gift shops. It felt a bit like Weston-super-Mare. Soft sand with a hint of coral pink, clear water, guaranteed sunshine (everyday) and a genuine sense of grandeur.

Praia do Peneco

My greatest expectations were fixed on Praia da Marinha, claimed by TripAdvisor to be one of the top ten beaches in Europe. The scenery from above was truly stunning, but the beach itself was overrated. The seaweed and the rocks in the shallow water were unwelcome. The sand was better than the shingle on other beaches, but still a bit coarse. Still, there were some magnificent rock structures to admire and caves to explore.

Praia da Marinha, looking a bit inhospitable from on high

But that rock architecture, though

I’d seen the beach from a RIB earlier in the week, and now it was time to approach by land. The view from the sea was far more enticing.

The view from on board. On the way back from chasing down dolphins, poor things

Local Knowledge

En route, I chatted with a wonderfully courteous and very knowledgeable driver named Monica. She looked like a Monica. Only the second Monica I have ever met. She was a traditionalist. A family person. Dismayed by the proliferation of single sex groups taking over the Strip (a popular road full of bars and restaurants in the Albufeira night-life area, where pole dancing and strip-clubs are on the increase. The town is the unfortunate host to many British stag and hen parties. In the male groups, one person is invariably naked and yet barely embarrassed. Monica refused to take her naked traveller in her minibus until he found something to put on the seat. She wasn’t so bothered by the females, but I’m sure she had plenty more tales up her sleeve.

And “all they want to do is drink”. Indeed. But, as Monica readily admitted, that’s where the money comes from these days so it’s hard to turn them away. And so the British now have an alternative to Ibiza and Kos. Cheap airlines. Cheap values. Cheap thrills.

The aptly named boulevard: The Strip in Albufeira (photo via partyinportugal.com)

Perhaps surprisingly, when the locals manage to have a conversation with the young visitors, the tourists turn out to be very nice, decent people. One even came from Devon. Which is a very lovely county full of fine, friendly, local-yokels.

Low cost airlines have also led to local craftsmen losing their market. In the past, tourists would buy pots and other items of handicraft. Beautiful mementos. Cultural treats. But now, with travellers only bringing hand luggage serving as suitcases, there's not even room for a spare toothbrush let alone a pretty little pot for the neighbours.

A more pleasant subject was the history of Nandos. We passed through the small town of Guia. It was here that a Portuguese man called Fernando concocted a recipe for piri-piri chicken and set up a local business called…Nandos. Before long, he took it to Zimbabwe, where his business was bought up.

Nandos has never taken off in Portugal. Instead, in the town where Fernando grew up and became a culinary legend, they have chicken à la Guia. Somehow, with all the fish on offer, I missed out on chicken the whole week. I must go back.

Fast and fiery, and popular everywhere...except Portugal

The original Fernando the Frango

World History

Halfway to Marinha beach, I finally asked the question I had been dying to hear the answer to:

“Which came first: Lagos in Portugal or Lagos in Nigeria”.

Of course, I should have known what the answer would be. The African city was named after the European one. As a sea-faring nation, unable to make their way anywhere worth their while across Spain, the Portuguese set out as traders and explorers. At least, I think, they probably had these intentions to start with.

I then heard about Henrique, the second son of the Portuguese King John. Destined for the Church, but wanting more in his life, he set sail and became Henry the Navigator. In this role, he benefited from the compass and the astrolabe. Moorish inventions that opened up a new world for the Portuguese. Initially a flat world, though, with an edge that could be fallen off. Ultimately, they found India and the Orient, and pursued spices and the silk trade.

Henrique the Navigator. En route from Lagos to Lagos

A European vision of Britain

Monica was on slightly rockier ground when Brexit came up and we talked about Portuguese perceptions of the UK. I made it clear that I thought Brexit was stupid. Monica didn’t exactly agree, but didn’t disagree either. She merely told the tale of a friend who had once travelled to Britain to meet a local authority to claim a free council house. All he had in the form of luggage was a small hold-all. That’s all they think they need to do and take. Apparently we are still looked on as soft touches. On hearing this I was dismayed, but didn’t feel up to trying to persuade her that we’re not like that all. Are we?

Trusting in the Union

Still clinging on to friends in high places.

Nb - Continental Europeans are not the enemies of Britain

Connected Cultures

And so, on one short journey, barely half an hour from hotel to the sand, I gathered a wealth of cultural content from a very warm and interesting local. A world away from sport. I also enjoyed a history lesson, a geography lesson and a sharing of values as well as a comfortable ride to the seaside and a long overdue explanation of the role of the Frango in Portuguese culture. For me, this was one of the most rewarding excursions and engagements in a wonderful week in the Algarve.

© Eddie Hewitt 2018

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