So today was our designated roaming day in the city of Faro. We started the day with a hotel supplied breakfast and I’ve found the breakfast buffets in the couple of hotels we’ve stayed in, quite an interesting collection of choices. This morning there were plates of cold ham, salamis and other meats, cheese slices and sliced tomato that sat alongside a plate of sliced cake. There were some different cereals too and bread. Steve made himself a toasted ham and cheese sandwich and I took my chances with some toast, which was delicious. A man walked in and we nodded good morning, so I watched what he chose, thinking he may have been Portuguese. On his plate he placed a modest slice of cheese, a slice of ham and small slice of cake. I guess it’s no different to people at home having bacon (ham) or muffins (cake) for breakfast. It’s always interesting to check out the selections though. After taking a few extra pats of jam in our pockets for future use and a couple of extra pieces of bread for later, we set off for our day of roaming.
We headed for the Old Town, which I thought was lovely. Beautiful old buildings, churches and cathedrals, cobbled streets, stone arches and tiled houses. It was really quiet at 9:30 in the morning and it was also really cold. That darn wind had not pulled its head in one bit, it was blasting and blowing and making the roaming just a little unpleasant with the wind chill. We walked along the front of the bay and through the old streets for quite a while and took time to just stop and sit on a bench in the sun and take in our surroundings.
If it was quiet at 9:30, by 10:30 the people were out and about and the benches were full. We’ve noticed people here do a lot of sitting. It’s really nice to see benches full of older men, just sitting around chatting and laughing and having animated conversations. Others just sit. We’ve noticed it everywhere we’ve been at all times of the day, people just sitting chatting or people-watching or just taking in the day and in particular groups of older men meeting up and chatting away. It’s nice. In fact the whole pace here in Portugal has been very sedate, very laid back. No one is in a hurry. People just take the time they need to do what they do, with a pause and a chat, no rushing. Things are quiet and unhurried, as if the day, and life in general, is to be savoured and enjoyed, not overlooked in a blur of fast-paced frenzy. It’s very nice.
After roaming the Old Town, we headed towards the Municipal Market, since the one we went to in Lagos was closed. Success, it was open for business. Walking in, it was a bit like walking into a shopping mall, with a supermarket on the lower level, but on the next level it was all independent stalls selling local produce, meat, seafood, bags of beans and grains and bread and pastries. Each stall was independent but there were lots of fruit and veg sellers, a lot of fishmongers and butchers. It was not nice to find myself in that section. OK for Steve, but the sights and smells of all the dead things wasn’t nice, so I started to power walk. We saw a baker’s stall that had the most amazing breads in all shapes and sizes, beautiful artisan loaves, rustic and lumpy and fantastic looking. I saw a brown, circular thing, that I thought was going to be a stoneground, rustic sort of pretzel. Well, I thought, it’s time to mingle with the locals and have a go at making a purchase at a fair dinkum market. So I pointed and asked for one and the transaction was completed successfully. Then I passed one of the many fruit and veg stalls that had raspberries, blueberries and big punnets of strawberries. There was an elderly lady sitting behind the stall, she had a lovely weathered face and grey curls falling about her ears. I got her attention and picked up the punnets that I wanted and showed how many I was taking. She came around from behind the stall with a bag, helped me bag my items, calculating the price as she went. She told me the price, in Portuguese, which I didn’t quite understand, but I had an idea of what the total was and I heard her say something like “sete”, which I took to be “7”. I didn’t understand the rest, so I wasn’t sure if she was asking for 7.00 or 7.50, so I played it safe and handed over a tenner. She slowly walked back behind the stall and reappeared with change. As I held out my hand, she carefully, slowly and methodically placed each 1euro coin in my hand, one at a time and counted “um…dois…tres”, looking at me after each coin was in my hand, almost as if she was going slowly for the person in front of her, who was obviously a bit slow on the uptake and finding things hard to underhand, which of course I am. She had a lovely kind face and crinkly smiley eyes…and very nice raspberries! We left the market and sat outside in the sun to share the brown circular pretzel looking thing. I broke it and it turned out to be hard and crispy and cinnamon, a bit like a round savoiardi biscuit I suppose.
We made a quick pitstop back at the hotel room so I could add some extra layers as a barrier to the wind and then we were off roaming again. We ended up in the outskirts of the city, which was certainly busier, lots of traffic and gave the place a faster, city feel. We ended up at a Decathlon store, so Steve went inside in search of a torch and I just wandered. I found a soft padded lunch box that I thought would be good to carry my fruit around in for elevenses, to stop it getting all smooshed in the loaded panniers, so off I went to the checkout to pay for it. Now this is where I think it’s fascinating how quickly the old brain can pick up on what’s being said in a foreign language, just with a bit of inference and familiar context. I waited while the lady in front of me made her purchase and, like I said earlier, neither she nor the checkout girl were in any hurry, they just chatted and took their time, which I thought was nice. While I was waiting I had my coins all ready to pay. Then it was my turn. I expected the first thing the girl to say, would be the price, but it wasn’t. It was “something-something-something-something Decathlon-something-something.” Quick as a flash I said, “No.” Then she said the price and I handed over my coins. Now see, I didn’t understand anything she said, other than the name of the store, but the ol’ brain obviously goes ‘ping-ping-ping I recognise something about this’ and just like that I figured out she was asking if I had a Decathlon loyalty card, so I said, “No” just like that. It’s a real insight into how people get by either dealing with a foreign language or dealing with literacy problems, it’s all about context and picking up the odd little cue here and there. Anyway, long story short, I paid for my little bag and off we went.
We wandered over to the nearby mall and sat to eat our packed lunch in the sun beside the fountain, then went in search of a couple of things for Steve. I found myself in a book shop and looked at the English literature section and there was Richard Flanagan’s book, The Long Road to the Deep North! How about that, a little bit of Tassie right there. Oh, and the music playing in that store was a cover version of Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over (in English). How ‘bout that! Even there in the mall too, it was so quiet and unhurried, no one rushing, people just sitting. Just nice and easy going. Oh, and Steve was stoked because we found a packet of Uno, so now the long-postponed international Uno tournament can begin! Our pack didn’t make the cut when we had to cull weight, so now the competition is back on!
So we had a day of roaming, in the Old Town and the busy modern bits. I mingled with the locals. I had a go at interacting with stall holders, to try some more “authentic” shopping. I figured out a bit of language here and there and again I got to meet some more locals and find them, once again, kind and lovely. Steve said he was disappointed with Faro and it didn’t live up to his expectations, but I liked it. I really liked the Old Town, I thought it was beautiful with its historic streets and buildings and its quiet, unassuming atmosphere. I also liked just being in amongst the locals at the market and trying new things. So we leave with different impressions of the place.
Tomorrow we continue east towards the Spanish border. The weather forecast is for…WIND! Lots and lots of WIND! So we’re expecting another tough day at the office and may try a shorter ride to a closer campsite so we aren’t battling the weather too much. So far the score is a very narrow victory to the cyclists…RIDERS – 1 WIND – 0. How will the battle play out tomorrow? Will the wind look to the bench and bring on its reserve big-guns, the HILLS? Will it be a David and Goliath show down? Results are pending. But in the words of the one and only Bruce McAvaney, it will be “SPECIAL”.