Notes from Portugal: Final Note: Iron Maiden Mecca

Can’t say I’m a huge heavy metal fan, but it was cool to find out that the town we were staying in over the New Years, Santa Barbara de Nexe, Portugal, is considered the world-wide center for Iron Maiden fans.

It turns out that bassist and IM founder Steve Harris started a bar there almost twenty years ago and has a local presence, including owning at least one luxury villa on the hill there, in the mountains north of Faro, Portugal.

The bar is named after the skeletal mascot of the band, Eddie, who’s image adorns the front entrance as well as the interior.

Forget “Planet Hollywood” (or “Cabo Wabo,” for that matter), Eddie’s Bar is a real, neighborhood bar, that just happens to be owned by a real metal celebrity.

What better place to grab a cold Sagres cerveza?

Notes from Portugal: So Faro, so good

I know, I know the Algarve isn´t the “real” Portugal. It´s the built-up touristy area in the south of the country (which is a little ironic, considering the name “Algarve” is from the phrase “the West” in Arabic). Still, you´re definitely missing something if you don´t visit the center of the old town.

Walk past the busy shops and cafes (and avoid Jumbo altogether), and you´ll be rewarded. The walled old city is a lovely, roughly circular area of small streets, which center on a small, Gothic church from the 13th century and a small square.

Everywhere, wintering storks can be seen perched up in nests, high above the square.

I stopped in to buy hand-painted ceramic tiles from the 17th and 18th centuries in a dusty little shop. You know, it´s kind of a wonder that the old town isn´t filled with cafes, boutique hotels, and stupid T-shirt shops, like similar areas all around Europe. It´s truly lovely, and couldn´t have been more picturesque than just after sunset, as the nightingales started singing.

Notes from Portugal: Jumbo Shopping Mess

Visiting southern Portugal and stuck in a traffic jam? It’s probably just your local JUMBO shopping mart.

I´m in Faro, Portugal, finishing off the year, seeking a little warmth. Faro is a small town at the southern-most tip of Portugal. Here, it’s in the 60s(F), sunny, and beautiful, but you can’t escape traffic or the end-of-the-year shopping hoards even here.

The most annoying thing in the whole region? On the sole major roadway to this old fishing village with the pretty old walled center town, at the first roundabout, is a shopping center called JUMBO. It lives up to its name. It blocks traffic in a mile in either direction. Seriously, there’s no way around it. And, from the looks of it last night and tonight, everyone in this town, and maybe even the whole region, is there. Shopping.

What’s going on? It’s low season, relatively, here. All the tourists have gone. And yet, it is an all-consuming black hole of noise, traffic, and shopping carts, you’ll find this monstrosity. What happened to all the local markets?

Happy New Year! Eat well. Don’t Jumbo.

Notes from Portugal: West Coast of Europe, Dude!

Greetings from Portugal. I am spending this week with friends in Faro, in the Algarve region of Portugal, and will undoubtedly post a few notes from here. If I can handle this internet cafe or find a new one, that is. To give you an idea, I am surrounded by about 10 men, age 20-25, talking to friends on Skype really loud in some angry-sounding foreign language. One of them is watching old people engaging in kinky sexual acts at the same time. Why, oh why, didn’t I bring my laptop instead?

Yes, I agree that going to southern Portugal just barely counts as adventure travel but it is a good place to warm up one’s bones. It is if you live in Prague or New York, at least.

I don’t have much to report just yet. I have noticed that the climate and landscape here is remarkably similar to that of Southern California. I can see why Portugal is trying to brand itself to Americans as the “West Coast of Europe.” They claim they are very environmentally-savvy, although the house where we are staying recycles just glass. It is not too hot in the summer and pretty warm in the winter. Not nearly as many blonds though. And a lot more sardines!

Even with the weak dollar, Portugal is pretty affordable. A cup of coffee will cost you about one euro [$1.40]. You might have noticed that I typically go by the “coffee price index” when traveling abroad. Gotta keep my priorities straight!

Stay tuned for more on Portugal.