Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Portugal Trip Part 5 - Lagos

When you last left me I had deftly outwitted the Casino Lisboa and was boarding my train for Lagos. I was delighted to find that I had been assigned the only seat in the car that didn't have a seat next to it, and I settled in. At one of the stops in suburban Lisbon, one of the passengers who got on stood next to me for a second and said something in Portuguese, which I obviously didn't understand. I assumed he was saying that I was in his seat, but I was sure I wasn't so I rummaged through my stuff to get my ticket out and showed it to him. He looked at it for a minute and said "Ah, cinco" and then walked away. Turns out he only wanted to know what car of the train we were in, since my seat was also the closest one to the door he boarded through. This story seemed funnier to me when it happened than it does typing it up, but seriously that guy had to wait like 30 seconds for the answer to a simple question. Oops.
This train was very modern, and a digital display informed me that we reached 220 kilometers per hour at one point of the journey. A few hours later I changed trains in Tunes, which is a tiny little town that probably only exists because it's where two railway lines cross, and the difference between my new train and the previous one couldn't have been more stark (starker?). That doesn't mean that it was a crappy train, it was just completely wood paneled inside with brown leather benches in pairs facing each other. My second train ride took about 50 minutes through what was probably gorgeous scenery if it hadn't been so dark, and I got to Lagos train station after 10 PM. The walk to the hostel was pretty far but luckily they had 24 hour reception so I got checked in and was placed in a 4 bed room by myself, since there were only three other people staying there. I pretty much just went right to bed, and the next morning I got up around 9 to go look for some breakfast.
Unfortunately the highly recommended breakfast place was closed for vacation (where do you go on vacation when you live in the Algarve?), but in looking another place I did happen to catch a few of the sights around town. I guess I should have started off by telling you guys a little bit about Lagos. It's in the Algarve, which is the southernmost region of Portugal and a very popular vacation destination for people from northern Europe. Lagos is known for the rock formations along its beaches, which is mainly why I chose to visit it and not Albufeira or Faro. In the Portuguese Age of Discovery it was one of the major embarkation ports for voyages to Africa, the Indies, and Brazil (another was Belém, we've been there!), and the first slave market on European soil was established in Lagos in 1444.

Just in case you forgot where I was

My hostel, The Monkey House

Cool fountain on the rooftop terrace at the hostel

View of Lagos from the terrace, for some reason I wasn't expecting all the buildings to be white

I made friends with Rafiki, the hostel cat

Main gate into the partially preserved city walls

Some crazy statue from the 70's of a spaceman/anime character in one of the plazas, pretty out of place with the feel of the rest of the town.

Cool building covered with green tiles on another plaza

The Igreja de Santo António, famous for it's intricately decorated interior. Unfortunately, as you can see from the photo, it was closed when I was passing by.

After having a few pastries and some orange juice near the spaceman statue I headed back to the hostel and changed into my bathing suit before setting off towards the beach. Yes, it was November and although the temperature was very comfortable in the 60's I was sure the water would be freezing, but I hadn't come all the way to the Algarve to not swim in the ocean! I spent at least three hours, probably more, walking along the pathways that follow the coast around Lagos and taking tons of pictures until my batteries died and I went for a quick dip on a secluded beach. As I anticipated, the water was freezing, and it also had started to drizzle, so I didn't even wet my hair and trekked back to town to get a late lunch.

The closest beach to town


Oh wait, it's just a 20 euro cent coin

Looking out to sea

Inter-beach tunnel

I don't know what's out on that rock, but apparently it was worth building a bridge to

High up on a cliff over the beach I eventually went swimming (wading) at

Back in town I found a place to get a hamburger and some beer, then went back to the hostel because the rain was picking up. I spent a few hours on the internet and watching satellite TV before I decided I was hungry again and headed out to a traditional Portuguese restaurant I had seen earlier in the day. I bought a Newsweek on the way there so I could have something to read while I ate alone. I ordered the "Fisherman's Cod", which turned out to be exactly the same thing as the cod dish I had eaten in Porto, but no matter, I just made sure not to eat the bones this time. As I was taking pictures of my food to eventually show my dad I heard the British couple at the other table talking about me, so I looked up and waved to them to let them know I understood English. We got into a conversation and it turns out the husband is a mining executive who has worked for pretty much every big company in the industry, and they were in town to buy a condo. They invited me over to their table and we chatted for over an hour, and then they paid for my meal despite my protests. I got the guy's email and cell number but I am still working on turning this chance encounter into a job somewhere.

The infamous picture that got me noticed by my future friends Graham and Pauline

After dinner I went back to the hostel and read the Newsweek that I had ended up not needing at dinner, then went to bed. The next morning I got up a little late and checked out of The Monkey House, then walked around Lagos some more, following the suggested walking route on a map I had picked up at the tourist office. My train back to Lisbon via Tunes left at 3 but I was back at the train station before 2 because other than the beach there really isn't all that much to do in Lagos.

The Slave Market; much smaller than I expected, but I guess that's a good thing?

Prince Henry the Navigator, who we also saw on the Monument to the Discoveries in Belém

Lagos is a pretty quiet place in the winter

The esplanade along the river Bensafrim, one of the major pedestrian walkways in Lagos. I imagine in the summer this place is crawling with people.

Once I got back to Lisbon I checked into my new hostel. I didn't stay in the same one I had stayed in earlier because during the booking I reasoned that if that hostel ended up sucking I would want to switch it up. Turns out my original Lisbon hostel was the best one I have stayed in so far. Oh well. Since it was only around 7 PM I caught a train out to the nearby town of Estoril, which is a beach community where many members of the European monarchy have lived in exile throughout the years. Oh and it's also the home of the largest casino in Europe, but that's totally not why I went there . . . This casino was a popular stomping ground for spies and unsavory characters during World War II and inspired Ian Fleming's (the dude who created James Bond, but you guys are smart, you knew that) Casino Royale.

The railway platform, in the rain

If you were going to the largest casino in Europe, you'd think the main entrance would be the one with the fountains. You'd be wrong though.

Hmm, this looks promising

As you can imagine, I wasn't allowed to take any pictures inside the casino, but events of note included winning 50 euros at the blackjack table, getting yelled at in Portuguese by one of my fellow players for taking a card when I apparently wasn't supposed to, and trying to tell the Russian girl who was tending bar how to make a Soco and lime using the simplest English words possible, even though I didn't know how to make one myself. Slightly drunk off my glass of straight Southern Comfort with a bit of lime juice mixed in, I boarded the train back to Lisbon 43 euros richer and very pleased with my utter dominance in Portuguese casinos. Tomorrow (in the past, probably not actually tomorrow but hey, who knows) I'm off to Sintra.


  1. Glad to see you're catching up the on the blog - I know it seems like a chore, but 1)your public likes to read of your travels, and 2)it will be a great record of your time in Europe and worth the effort. Keep going - can't wait to read about the post exam week trip -- DAD

  2. Great Article!!!

    We who work here do go on holiday from Lagos! :))))

    Will pass you comments onto Rafiki next time I'm by the Monkey House.

    "Some crazy statue from the 70's of a spaceman/anime character.." This is representation of Rei Sebastião, one of Portugal's spaced out kings!

    Would you mind me publising a link to this article on my blog?

  3. Not at all, I've got nothing to hide haha