Meeting a Catbird


Cathy in Alte

Never having met one before, I wasn’t at all sure if meeting a Catbird would be scarey.  You can tell from the smile on Cathy’s face that it was anything but.  In fact, from the second we met, we were nattering away like old pals, and by the time we’d dragged her humungous purple suitcase to the car, we were well into our life stories.

Cathy’s is convoluted, and mine not as straightforward as you might think, so it all took some time to unravel.  We each had remembered snippets about the other, but needed to explore the detail.  And what fun that was.

For any of you not familiar, a little background.  Cathy Dutchak, an American lady, has been working in the Gulf State of Oman for the past eighteen months, and before that in Korea.  Intriguing, yes?  When I came across A native in the Land of Niswa I just had to know more.  I followed Cathy through the ups and downs of life in the rich Arab world and marvelled at the beauties her photography revealed.

Then Cathy announced that her time over there was up and, before returning to the USA, she was spending a month touring Spain and Portugal.  It coincided with a visit I was making to Tavira, so how could I not offer a little hospitality? (but a touch nervously, still not too sure what kind of creature a Catbird might be)  How glad I am that I did.

Time went all too quickly.  We discovered a love of boats in common and, as the temperatures were into the 30s, an expedition onto the water seemed a good idea.  The birdwatching and historical tour of the Ria Formosa was perfect (but not before a visit to the Post Office to try to dispose of some of Cathy’s rapidly accumulating luggage- more of that later!)

Off we chugged from the quayside at Tavira

Off we chugged from the quayside at Tavira

Wasn't there a "Tilted" challenge out there somewhere?

Isn’t there a “Tilted” challenge out there somewhere? Good candidate!

I hope you'rte not expecting great bird photography? He's out there- look closely!

I hope you’re not expecting great bird photography? Look very closely!

But I do get better as we approach the lovely village of Santa Luzia

But I do get better as we approach the lovely village of Santa Luzia

Our skipper was concentrating- don't want to ram a fishing boat

Our skipper was concentrating- don’t want to ram a fishing boat

And there were lots

And there were lots

And lots

And lots

And a catamaran

And a catamaran

And the Santa Luzia ferry

The Santa Luzia ferry

And more boats

And more fishing boats

More?  Enough, I think!

More?  Enough, I think!

Then we headed down the channel to the sea, to look back at Tavira Island

Then we headed down the channel to the sea, to look back at Tavira Island

Then back to shore, past the twin lighthouses

And returned to shore, passing the twin lighthouses.

Back on dry land there was much to see, and we leaped into the car and off to the hills and the village of Alte.  It’s a favourite of mine and I’ve written about it and been there many times.  Today was about finding a cool spot beside the fontes, or springs, and a cafe extraordinaire for refreshments.

I think the cat succeeded

I think the cat succeeded

Who says the Algarve isn't green?

Who says the Algarve isn’t green?

Our cafe is also a shop crammed full of ceramics like these.

Our cafe is also a shop crammed full of ceramics like these.

Cathy very much likes ceramic tiles and the Moorish connection, so it was on through cork and eucalyptus country to Silves, with its mighty fortress.  I was there in May this year, resulting in S is for Silves, but a few more photos had to be taken.  I was pleased to find the Igreja da Misericordia open for an art exhibition, a reward in itself.

We were warm and tired when we made it home, but after a brief “feet up” we were out again, in search of food.  At some point I’m sure you’ll read Cathy’s version of this, so all I’m going to say is that she provided enormous entertainment for Luis and Philippe, the owner and the waiter in “A Taska”.  The food was delicious, as usual, but while I simply nodded and smiled my approval, Cathy went into full blogger mode.

Charm turned up full (with maybe a little extra confidence from the port), she proceeded to photograph the decor, the menu, the food, and of course, Luis and Phillipe.  “She’s funny” said the latter, rolling his dark eyes and minding not a bit.  Then it was onto the streets, and straight into the nearest shop.  Did I mention that Cathy likes to shop?  “Casa das Portas” is a very beautiful place to do it, but for once restraint was exercised.

"Casa das Portas" with some of its iconic door paintings

“Casa das Portas” with some of its iconic door paintings

The case was rather full, and I ended up bringing a good amount of her clothing back to the UK in my hand luggage.  She had already shipped some home from Barcelona and I did not want to waste more of the holiday queuing at our post office. It is speeding its way to the USA right now.  Goodness knows what purchases she might have made in Lisbon, but the Spanish skirts I saw were extremely nice.

We wandered the warm Tavira night, in search of a promised fig and almond icecream, which sadly we never found.  I was sorry to disappoint.  But one thing for sure, Cathy did not disappoint me.  I learnt a lot, and I laughed a lot, and I think we will be lifelong friends.

Me and Cathy, having fun.

Me and Cathy, having fun.

Six word Saturday

Random moments from an Algarve week

Fonte Pequena (little fountain) at Alte

It had just bounced with rain and the bottle brush plant was sodden.

The Folklore Festival and Wedding Ceremony at Alte

 Then there’s one that would fit well in my recent post on “fontes”.

The fountain in Praca da Republica, Tavira

And an item that I was much taken with.  More to come in a future post.

The Tavira vase, on display in the new Islamic Museum

Then my little side trip with Flat Ruthie.

The village of Sanlucar de Guadiana, on the Spanish side of the Spain/Portugal border

A handsome caballero

Keeping watch over the Guadiana

Tangled in the orange blossom in Castro Marim

So now you know how I spent my week.  It was wonderful looking back and now it’s your turn.  To play Six word Saturday you need to visit Cate’s Show My Face so click on the link or the banner at the top of this page, and get started.  My Six word Saturday page will show you what I’ve been up to in the past.  Feel free to browse.  See you next week.

F is for Fonte (fountain or spring)

Fonte in Largo do Carmo, Lisbon- from Wikipedia, by Rui Pedro Carvalho

There is an astonishing array of beautiful fountains adorning Portuguese towns and villages. Here are just a few I can’t resist sharing.

Fonte de Toural, Guimaraes- from Wikipedia,

Fonte do Idolo, Braga- Nabia, goddess of rivers and water- from Wikipedia

Fonte de Agua Ferreas, Braga- from Wikipedia

Fonte da Rua de Bonjoia- from Wikipedia, by Antonio Amen

Fonte de Leoes (lions), Porto- from Wikipedia, by da Sousa

Fonte de Sao Bento, Corticeiro de Carapelhos, Mira- from Wikipedia, by Jose Olgon

Azulejo, Fonte de Sao Bento

Fonte do Rossio, Lisbon- Creative Commons

Varied aren’t they?  There are hundreds I could have shared.  Do you have a favourite?  I think probably the last one’s mine, but I love Nabia too.  I also came across the term “chafariz” in relation to fountains and am not sure if this refers to a specific type.  Maybe my Portuguese friends can help me out with this?

The word “fonte” appears in many place names in Portugal.  In fact, when we’re directing people to our home in Tavira, we tell them to turn off the E125 at the roundabout signed Fonte Salgada.  In this sense it relates to a natural spring.

Fonte Pequena, Alte

My first sighting of natural springs here in Portugal was in the village of Alte.  Fonte Pequena (little spring) and then Fonte Grande (large spring) and the surrounding lush greenery came as a complete surprise.  It seemed a world away from the Algarve to which I was used.  Alte is described in detail in my Personal A-Z of Portugal, but I came across a lovely snippet of the poetry of Cândido Guerreiro, born in the village in 1871 and commemorated at the fontes:

“As the place where I was born lies encircled by four hills

Through which waters run singing

The songs of fountains and mills,

Waters taught me to speak.”

(Porque nasci ao pé de quatro montes

Por onde as águas passam a cantar

As canções dos moinhos e das fontes,

Ensinaram-me as águas a falar.)

I often go out with a walking group in the Algarve, or rely on a map and my husband, to find local beauty spots.  We found Fonte de Benemola, the Eternal Spring, one February day with the help of Julie Statham’s book, “Algarve-Let’s walk”.   The white faced cistus I love wasn’t yet in bloom and the valley was peaceful as can be, the fonte rippling silently in its depths.  On our way back to the car we spotted the solitary basket weaver, his wares strung along a reed fence.  He rather charmingly demonstrated his whistles and we purchased a small bowl.  A slightly wonky fruit bowl now sits on top of my fridge!

Fonte de Benemola, near Querenca

There is a wealth of natural springs in Portugal, some of which have been developed into health resorts.  The term “caldas” refers to thermal springs, as in Caldas de Monchique in the Algarve.  Further north, Caldas da Rainha (Queen’s hot springs) has had a thermal hospital since 1488, when Queen Leonor discovered the curative power of the waters.  Beautiful Sintra was also a spa.

Fonte in the back streets of Sintra

Spring water is a popular source for drinking water because of its relative purity and high mineral content, believed by many to have health benefits.  Just north of Coimbra, the small town of Luso is home to one of the most famous bottled waters in Portugal.  I seldom go walking without a bottle.

This post is part of my Personal A-Z of Portugal.  I’ve been following Julie Dawn Fox’s challenge for a while now.  If you’d like a look at what’s gone before, and maybe to join in with an A-Z of your own, please follow the links.  I need to catch up with my personal A-Z of Poland next.  See you next time.

A is for Alte

Why Alte?  It wasn’t an easy decision because here in the Algarve I also love the border town of Alcoutim, pretty Alvor with its wide estuary, and the lovely island of Armona.  I expect we’ll visit them later in this A-Z.  I’ll sneak them in somewhere.

Casa d’Alte- sounds like home?

The images that you see everywhere of the Algarve are beaches (of course!), and golf courses, but there’s so much more to the Algarve.  Alte represents that other Algarve- the world away from the coasts, with natural springs and lush greenery.  I’ve heard Alte described as the prettiest village in the Algarve, and I wouldn’t disagree.

We first passed through en route for Monchique 7 years ago, and were charmed by the place.  Coming from the Eastern Algarve we had taken the scenic route along the N124, passing pretty Salir, the endless cork trees and imposing Rocha de Pena.  We were in search of the natural springs that we’d heard about, with very little idea of what that would entail.  On that occasion we saw just a fraction, but the idyll of ducks beneath the bridge, and the azulejo tiled pictures at Fonte Pequena (little spring) delighted us.  The gardens and nearby Fonte Pequena Inn are dedicated to local poet, Candido Guerreiro, whose work is displayed by the springs.

Tranquil Fonte Pequena

Azulejos decorate the springs at Fonte Pequenal

A return visit in May 2009 had us wishing we’d brought swimwear.  It was unseasonably warm and we were amazed at the volume of water in the “stream”.  A lovely area for picnics this.  And then there’s the village itself, with its winding cobbled streets, some of them quite steep.  Everywhere is whitewash and bougainvillea.  Shops and cafes are strewn about the village, a welcome source of browsing and shade in the Summer.

Bougainvilea rules!

Oh for a swimsuit! Too hot at Fonte Grande.

Can’t stay out here much longer!

As with most Portuguese villages, the church lies at its heart.  Igreja Matriz de Alte, devoted to Our Lady of the Assumption, dates from the 13th century.  It was built at the direction of the wife of the Second Lord of Alte, to give thanks for his safe return from the Crusades.  The vault is sublimely decorated with azulejos.

Igreja Matriz

I’ve not yet had the privilege of attending the Folklore Festival and Wedding Ceremony for which Alte is most famous.  It takes place on the second Saturday in August.  Bridal Party and numerous folklore groups parade through the streets, culminating in a toast to the “happy couple” at Fonte Grande (large spring) and a traditional wedding feast.

A Folklore Festival is also staged on May Day and in 2012 I managed to be there.  For a while I didn’t think it was going to happen- the skies opened and the rain bounced for almost an hour.  Patience paid off in the end, and the procession made their way across the lavender strewn cobbles to the stage at Fonte Grande.

Fonte Pequena in May

The littlest ones start the dancing off onstage at Fonte Grande

Then they were a little older

Skirts began to twirl, feet to stamp

Quickly, before it rains again!

Young and old combining expertise

Numerous other celebrations take place in Alte throughout the year, including Carnaval, this year on February 21st.  Confetti is available to throw at the passing floats.

A full list of events can be found on  together with a lot of useful parking details and opening hours.

This is the first in a series of posts, related to Julie Dawn Fox’s Personal A-Z Challenge. There are links in the logo in this post and in the sidebar to take you to the main site, where you can happily read for hours.

Just to get you started, how about:

My next task is to start my A-Z of Poland.  See you there!