Newsletter November 2004

  by: Nigel Anteney Hoare

The month of October began with no let up in the hot sunny weather. Whilst mornings and evenings had cooled down, once the sun was up it was glorious. Quite unseasonable really!

Despite the sunny weather it was time to think about the coming winter with its inevitable colds and coughs. At work we arranged our usual Autumn flu injections for the staff with a couple of nurses coming to our offices from a private clinic to administer them.

We also had one of our annual works health inspections. Firms over a certain size are obliged to contract with one of the many specialist companies that come and give all staff the once over – blood pressure, heart, blood and urine tests etc. The firm we use arrive in a large van which is set up as a small clinic. They hook up to our power supply and away you go. I guess this is reasonably advanced system for some countries who have no practical health at workplace arrangements. Anyway we all passed and I was given my annual instruction to lose weight!

The beginning of the year saw news in the national and local press that seven currently toll free roads were to become tolled. This included our own Via do Infante - the A.22. It was announced that the toll levels for each will be based on the GDP of the area concerned and as the Algarve has a higher level of income than other parts of the country we will pay more! Even worse the suggestion is that whilst “locals” living within 30 kms of the road will get a 3 or 4 year amnesty from tolls tourists will be charged! Just the job for the arriving British tourist with no Euros eh?! Especially at a time when tourism is at a low ebb here. This news led many to rightly observe that all the good done by the new road will be swept aside and traffic will simply revert to using the non toll EN 125. The Algarve business associations are up in arms about it, worried that news of extra road charges will affect tourism in already difficult times. They have organized a mass protest on 12th November at 10 am asking everybody possible to use the EN 125 to demonstrate that it can’t cope with the traffic. Lets see what happens- I will tell you next month!

The hot dry weather prompted a Government Minister visiting the Algarve to warn of possible water cuts and this again had upset the tourist associations as likely to put tour operators off the Algarve. Tourism, the lifeblood of the region is sure under attack.

On the First Sunday of the Month we took advantage of the good weather to go to Armação beach. There were plenty of people there enjoying the sun and the water was actually warm! Certainly warmer than it had been in September. There had been reports of a line of red algae appearing off the coast and this could be clearly seen. Investigation had been underway to determine if this was harmful but to date I haven’t seen the results. The appearance of the algae had been attributed to the extremely warm temperatures this year and follow on from a blue algae seen a few years ago. As the water temperature drops it is assumed this will disappear. Another freak of nature.

The same day I was interested to see on the BBC programme Antiques Roadshow a person who took along a painting by Patrick Swift for evaluation. Patrick or “Paddy” Swift was an early settler in Carvoeiro arriving here about 1962 and lived in a house past the lighthouse on the road to Alfanzina. Irish by birth, he was a well known artist and literary figure and founded the OLARIA DE PORCHES (Porches Pottery) at Porches where he set about reviving the regional craft of hand decorated pottery making. I think I am right in saying that Paddy Swift died in 1983 but the pottery still runs today under the watchful eye of his daughter Catty, I think and her husband (who met her after arriving from the UK in the early 80’s on a bike!). Anyway the art expert on the Roadshow explained that Swift was now “very collectable” and reckoned the painting in question was worth at least £15,000! I wonder if those early 80’s pottery plates I have got are worth a bomb?!

About this time I picked up the latest edition of the GOODLIFE magazine. I thought what a good publication it is, full of interesting facts and information and giving a different slant to the other English language publications on the coast. It is published by Lagoa based VIP Publications run by Peter Daughtrey and Len Port two long time Carvoeiro area residents. Keep up the good work chaps!

Something that surprises me here about Sundays is that garden centres are all closed. Despite living here well over 20 years I still have the English idea that Sunday might be a gardening day when one could pop along and get some plants and stuff. Certainly in the UK Sunday is a garden centres big day. I know many people here are on holiday and gardening is furthest from their minds but lots of us do live here and some of us even have to WORK(!) so Sunday is a useful day for us. Any views?

We were back to Seville for a couple of days early in October, on business this time. We had made a quick visit there at the end of September to spy out some local restaurants for hospitality purposes and had stayed in a very pleasant new hotel called PLAZA DAS ARMAS right by the river and the old bus terminal - now converted to a shopping mall. The hotel is very close to the centre of Seville and well priced if booked in advance over the internet. We found two great eating places there, one is a well known tapas bar and restaurant called CASA BLANCA and the other just 100 metres away is LA TABERNA DEL ALABARD. Both served splendid food. The former is a fairly small place with a bar area as you enter serving tapas to vociferous locals and with a 30 seater restaurant at the rear. The latter is housed in a magnificent old Spanish aristocrats house and serves really delicious food in various different sized rooms served from a very well run central kitchen. Well worth a try if you are in Seville

Whilst there I heard by telephone that heavy rain had hit Carvoeiro just before lunchtime on Friday 8th - the first real rain for long time. It hit Seville early evening with a torrential downpour catching us all unexpected with our summer clothes and no rain protection. When we got back to Carvoeiro on Saturday afternoon we noticed a big change in the weather, much cooler with mixed sun and cloud. We dropped a colleague at Tunes Station to catch the express to Lisbon. Tunes station used to be like something out of the Wild West, you know - two or three gunslingers always seemed to be waiting for the train to arrive bringing some amigo of theirs for a showdown or to rob the local bank. However as part of what I guess was the Euro 2004 general revamp, it is now very smart indeed. The AlfaPendular high speed train can be caught from there and there is a regular normal and express service to Lisbon and Porto. It is the interchange station for the coastal line as well. Rumour still abounds of a line right through to Seville which would be good.

By mid week the weather seemed to have settled back into a routine of rather chilly mornings with lovely clear sunny days. On Friday 15th having dropped my wife at Faro airport late morning to visit the UK and collect our children for half term, I joined some friends who were staying at Rocha Brava and we ate at ELE E ELA. Very good food indeed and great value at 25 Euros a head I felt. Another friend, Graham Groom, his partner Galia and her daughter Julia came in for a meal to celebrate Galias birthday. Dropping the others back at Rocha Brava for an early-ish night, I opted to join Graham and Galia at the ROUND UP for a drink or two. It was about half full with IRISH DAVE belting it out as usual. We decided to wander over to MUNGOS which was very quiet indeed. The season sure seems to have finished.

I had heard from Jan Zegers, owner of O PATIO, MARTINS GRILL and GRAND CAFÉ etc, that an old friend of mine, Alvaro Rosa, ex bar manager at SMILERS in the 80's whom some of you will remember, had suffered a heart attack and was in Portimão Hospital. The next day, Flavio of SULLYS confirmed this to me so I resolved to go and see him. Alvaro was a fine bar manager and had left Smilers to take over his fathers snack bar which had been based for many years in the old Portimão Market Place (now replaced by the underground car park and pleasant square at the bottom of Rua do Comercio). When the old market was torn down, as part of the Portimão re-generation scheme, the stall holders were offered new premises at the new market place near the Portimão Fire Station.

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Their snack bar is known as Casa das Bifanas and Alvaro and his brother have carried on their fathers tradition of serving the best "bifanas" in the area. For the unitiated, a bifana is a bread roll (papo seco) filled with hot, thin sliced, pork. Not just any sliced pork mind, but pork which has been cooked according to a secret recipe (each bifana maker has his own!) in a large frying pan on a gas ring. Basically the mixture of oil, garlic and other specialities in the frying pan rarely gets changed and more thin pork slices just get added to it as the cooked ones get used. The bifana specialist slices open the roll and wacks a generous helping of the hot sliced meat into it. He may ask you if you want it “com ou sem”. If it is “com” then he dips the cut side of the roll into the frying pan mixture! Delicious!!

Anyway, before I could visit him in hospital I heard he was discharged and back at work (you can’t keep a good bifana chef down!) so on Saturday morning at about midday I went to Portimao to see him. The market was still thriving with local smallholders selling their home grown produce outside the main market and gipsy women singing the praises of their stocks of sweaters and ladies knickers – one euro each! Alvaro was there looking fine, a bit slimmer but his usual smiling self. One of Alvaros bifanas is never enough so I ordered two straight away and a nice glass of vinho to wash it down (you don’t ask for tea at Alvaros!).

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My wife and children arrived back at Faro in the evening on a slightly delayed EasyJet flight from Stansted. They came fully equipped and complete with mother in law, the children on a two week half term and mother in law on a months change of scenery from the Isle of Man. The delay and my pathetic culinary skills meant a quick visit to the Chinese restaurant - good as ever and great value.

Sunday was a mixed day with cloud and sun. I collected a friend from Rocha Brava to join us for Sunday dinner. Rocha Brava seemed so quiet and she confirmed that there were very few people around. Passing JULIOS plenty of cars were in evidence as early diners arrived. With all the recent building of apartments and villas in that area, Julios seems to have mopped up a lot of the business that is around.

Monday 18th broke with the threat of rain and sure enough it came down hard during the day. There were warnings of bad weather to come but whilst Monday night was wet and the cloudy weather carried on with showers all day Tuesday, nothing too bad came our way. In fact it was a welcome break and whilst not that much fell it will help swell the reservoirs and avoid water rationing.

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Tuesday continued cloudy all day with the odd shower. During the day the wind strengthened and by nightfall was pretty strong. When I walked my dog near my home, which must be about 400 metres from the coast, I could hear the thunderous roar as the sea crashed against the cliffs by ALGAR SECO. Next morning I passed by the Church to take a look. The sea spray and dampness were evident as I stood looking down to the beach but the sun was trying to break through and the promise of a return to good weather was there. The storm brought sad news though when the national newspaper Correio da Manha reported on Wednesday the tragic loss of a fishing boat with 6 crew lost in the heavy seas further North about 2 miles off Aveiro. The boat had been trying to make the safety of harbour when it was presumably swamped.

I heard from someone in Monchique that all above 400 metes had been in the clouds for two days! Things improved however and by Friday 22nd we were back to some glorious sunshine again and a very pleasant weekend.

Sunday morning we decided to visit the clubhouse at VALE DO MILHO GOLF. Very nice it was too as we sat on the terrace watching the club members tee off in the sunshine. My son was interested in some golf lessons so we spoke to the friendly club professional DEREK LUTZ who fixed up a session for the following day. The Manchester United v Arsenal Premier League clash was being shown at the club on their big screen so we resolved to go back in the afternoon to watch that. The club house seems to do well on a Sunday with Sunday lunches and this day was no different. They are already advertising their Christmas and New Year catering arrangements which look attractive.

The weather closed in again on the Monday with thick cloud all day and again we couldn’t see the Monchique hills. Poor souls up there must be getting like troglodytes. Fortunately the rain stayed clear to allow the golf lesson to take place which was greatly enjoyed – move over Tiger Woods!

Tuesday whilst the UK was bracing itself for a fierce storm, we too received warnings of bad weather coming in from the South West in the afternoon. Whilst the dark clouds built up and threatened it stayed dry and with friends we visited RESTAURANT KAZY in Silves for some delicious chicken piri-piri. We had felt this place had gone off a bit lately and thus we hadn’t been there for some time but on this occasion the chicken and salad were superb and at 12 Euros a head including wine, water, soft drinks and bits and pieces a great deal.

News was in of the result of the trial of 10 Albufeira GNR policemen for corruption and extortion. This process stared back in 2002 and culminated in heavy prison sentences being handed out on the men involved, one receiving nine and a half years, and also on some business men involved on the fringes. It is a sad state of affairs but it has generally long been known that some police here are less than honest and presumably this will send shock waves through the Police service generally.

That night the wind strengthened and the rain fell heavily confirming the earlier warnings. On the Wednesday whilst the UK generally and especially south west England was rocked by severe storms we had our own mini storm with the much welcome rain coming in heavy showers. This continued much the same on Thursday with intermittent rain and sunshine.

More sad news of another fishing boat pushed onto the rocks having lost its way with nets around its propeller. This time, 6 of the seven man crew were lifted off by helicopter but one poor soul lost his life in the sea trying to swim for shore.

7a.m. Friday - still dark until the clocks change at the weekend. Thursdays bright full moon was still hanging high in the mostly clear western sky as the sun came up on what looked to be a promising day. Often the full moon seems to herald a change in the weather. About time the tourists had a break!

With their half term break about to end we decided to have a final dinner. The childrens choice was KOH SAMUI the Thai restaurant. Ten of us gathered there and had a great meal for 20 Euros a head including starters, wine and some puddings. With a very early start to get them to the airport next morning there was no chance of visiting any of the local bars for a nightcap so it was back home and off to bed to take advantage of the hour change.

Best regards until the end of November.