la danse orientale

Last night I went to a fabulous party. The friend of my friend was celebrating her 50th birthday. She’s French-Moroccan and lives with her French husband, Eric, in a house in the suburbs of Paris. White canopy tents had been erected in the garden, torches had been lit and long buffet tables groaned with platters of Moroccan food: tagines, couscous, pastilla, chicken and salads. For dessert we ate syrupy little cakes perfumed with orange flower water, stuffed dates, and orange and almond cake. All washed down with hot sweet mint tea. Towards midnight, fires were lit in metal drums and Bedouin carpets spread out on the grass. A professional Moroccan dancer performed while musicians played and guests ululated; the atmosphere was electric. I got home at 4 am. This morning my clothes still smelled of wood smoke from the fires.

Belly dancing is called la danse orientale in France. This complex and highly stylized dance is not easy to learn. Years ago I took lessons but I was hopeless at it. One of the best belly dancers is Sadie Marquardt. You’ll never guess where she’s from: Wisconsin, USA!! If you’re not familiar with this dance, here’s Sadie here, the queen of danse orientale. The music and the dancer we watched last night were similar to these videos.

 

onwards to Faro – Part IV

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Dotted around the property of the Epic Sana resort are little wooden structures, each with a daybed inside. I crawled into one with my notebooks, pens and reading glasses and spent some productive hours writing and rewriting my texts for my book project. On one side the ocean waves crashed below on the beach, while on the other birds chattered and hopped around on the lawns and tree branches. Bliss. This was my nature retreat, far from the cacophony and pollution of city life.

Nature is my church. (This is a statement borrowed from Chris, a highly creative man who lives on Gabriola Island off the coast of Vancouver, B.C., Canada.)

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Afterwards, to stretch my legs, I’d descend the wooden staircase and amble along the beach. When on vacation I try to stay outside as much as possible because in Paris I spend 40 hours a week sitting behind a computer in a hermetically-sealed office tower.

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FARO

The capital of the Algarve region, Faro has a modern airport, train and bus station. It’s a small city with a friendly laidback feel to it. From the hotel, I hired a taxi and took the half-hour ride into Faro. The “old town” is small, pedestrianized and has some good shopping and two or three good restaurants.

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I’ve never seen trees with mauve blossoms before.

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One day I made a great find in one of the backstreets. On my shopping list of things to buy in Portugal, I had written ‘cotton sheets’ and ‘a throw blanket’. I found both in this gorgeous little shop called Cuties.

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I couldn’t decide on these beautiful small blankets (80% lambswool, 20% polyamide.) All handmade in Portugal. I would’ve bought them all if only I had room in my suitcase.

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In the end I purchased this one along with a sheet set of Portuguese cotton. They fit my bed perfectly at home. Snow-white, crisp and Percale, they’re perfect for summer.

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The shop also sells fine cotton nightgowns, shirts, bedspreads, baby layettes and more. The address of Cuties for Home is Rua Rebelo da Silva, 18.

MERCADO MUNICIPAL

One morning I walked 20 minutes north to the Municipal Market, located in a new concrete building. Markets, in my opinion, are the soul of any country and should be visited. Unsurprisingly, there was fish galore as well as fruit and veg and some small specialty stands. The fish was so fresh, some were still gasping and flopping around.

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There were several coffee bars inside the market. Mid-morning I took an espresso break. The florentine-like cookie below is made from almonds and honey. I love standing at coffee bars (especially in Italy.) The hissing sound of the espresso machine is music to my ears.

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These are a specialty of the region made uniquely from ground figs, almonds and carob. Delicious!

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Back in the pedestrian district, I purchased these extraordinary Brazilian sandals (“cruelty-free and 100% recyclable thanks to Melflex®, a proprietary form of PVC that brings flexibility, comfort, and durability to every pair of Melissas”). That’s the brand name: Melissa. Not only are they super-comfy, they’re also stylish. What’s odd is the synthetic plastic vinyl which exudes an agreeable perfume.

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The lady at the hotel recommended a nearby restaurant for dinner. It was so good I went back the next night. I had a plate of dorade (sea bream) served with potatoes and a small green salad. I drank two glasses of Martini Rosso and the bill came to 22 euros. The food is simply prepared and super-fresh. My waiter filleted the grilled fish for me because it’s served whole and I’m hopeless in that department. The name of the restaurant is Adega Dois Irmaos.

In closing, I just want to say that the kindness, courtesy and relaxed manner of all the Portuguese people I encountered along my way was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip.

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And that’s it, folks. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of Portugal as much as I enjoyed discovering it. Thanks for travelling with me.

the Algarve – Part III

So on the morning of my fourth day in Lisbon I went to the train station to buy myself a ticket to Albufeira on the Atlantic Coast.

“Not possible,” said the man at the ticket counter.

“Why not?” I said.

“Strike,” he replied.

Strike? I had left strikes behind in France only to find the same in Portugal.

“So how am I supposed to get to Albufeira?” I said.

“Bus or airplane,” was the reply.

And here’s the big beautiful beast that took me there. For only 19,50 euros, it was a beautiful and relaxing two and a half-hour ride. 

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As I sat in my comfy seat that sunny summery morning, the open road stretched before me, I felt the urban stress melt from my neck and shoulders. I really felt like I was on summer vacation. We passed through gently rolling fields, orchards, vineyards and even a few rice paddies. After Italy, Spain and Greece, Portugal is the fourth largest rice producer in the EU.

In some ways Portugal reminds me of a simpler life from a past era, the era of my childhood or teen years, for example. It was relaxing to distance myself from the city and venture into the countryside. Here, I was trading the noise and air pollution of Paris for the clean ocean breeze of the Algarve; trading the metallic whine of scooters and motorcycles for the sound of birdsong; trading the closed and sometimes surly faces of the French for the pleasant friendly faces of the Portuguese. This is why I was travelling to the coastal hotel, the Epic Sana, that awaited me. It was an escape, of sorts.

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Nothing but flowers, lush foliage, hummingbirds, warblers and bluebirds, magnificent cloudscapes, sunshine and always a cool breeze blowing in off the ocean. I was in heaven. The Epic Sana resort hotel has several restaurants and swimming pools. On my second night I dined alfresco in this Italian restaurant overlooking gardens and a pool.

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“Oh, my goodness!” I exclaimed when that gorgeous tomato-mozzarella salad was placed before me. It was almost too beautiful to eat. The woman told me the flowers were edible. Two different kinds of ravioli: spinach and ricotta followed by pumpkin and cheese. In Portugal they serve a sort of generic vinho verde (literally ‘green wine’, green meaning ‘young’) which is far too light and spritzy for my taste. With the help of the woman manager who spoke perfect English and was super-friendly, I chose and drank several glasses of a crisp, dry, lightly herbal white wine which complemented my meal perfectly.

“This is bliss,” I thought as I sipped wine and nibbled flower petals. I thought of my parents and wished they were with me (sadly, they passed away in the 1990s). Because I was eating early, I was the only patron there. The peace and beauty of the place coupled with the food, friendly waitstaff and evening light glinting off the swimming pool was a memorable moment. This is why I take photos and blog: to preserve those special life moments.

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You could actually smell the fragrance of the wild thyme, lavender, sage and pine trees. Afterwards I went to sit by the pool to write in my journal, take some photos and watch the sun set.

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More to come … this hotel and then onwards to Faro.

Oh, here’s the link of the hotel –

http://www.algarve.epic.sanahotels.com/en/photo-gallery

shopping in Lisbon – Part II

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Portugal is a shopper’s paradise. Why? Low prices, fine quality, and original items that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Textiles, bed linens, hand-embroidered cottons, soaps, hand-painted tiles, carpets … the list is long. Towards the end of my trip I had to buy a second suitcase in which to put my purchases. I bought gifts for friends, office colleagues, my concierge, the kids … and for myself, of course 🙂

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Located at number 274 Rua da Prata, this shop is filled with gorgeous handcrafted woollen goods. It’s called Chi Coracao. Blankets, shawls, capes, women’s and men’s wear, rugs, scarves … all handmade from wool in beautiful colors.

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I purchased two throw rugs. This one in blue and another in light gray.

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You can find wine shops selling this delicious porto everywhere. Not just a dessert wine, it’s also a pleasant sipping wine, perfect for an apéritif served with olives, nuts, etc.

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Colorful tins of sardines are also sold everywhere, Portugal being the sardine capital of Europe, if not the world.

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These beautifully-wrapped fragrant soaps make great gifts. I bought a lot.

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Handmade and handpainted ceramics and dishware. Love these colors. Part of a collection of mugs, plates, bowls, etc., I purchased this single small platter.

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Before we move on to the Algarve, here are some last random photos of Lisbon. During the three days I was there the weather was gorgeous: warm with a constant cool wind blowing in off the Tagus River.

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I flew with Joon, Air France’s new low-cost airline, from Paris to Lisbon for 135 euros one-way. The flight is around two hours, ten minutes. I returned with Easyjet from Faro to Paris, paying 114 euros for a one-way ticket. I really like Easyjet and will become a member. The plane I took was a brand-new Airbus with lots of leg room.

Next post – onwards to the Algarve!

Lisbon – Part I

Today I was in Faro, way down on the southern Algarve coast. Now I’m back in Paris. I’ll definitely go back. I loved Portugal.

Here’s the first part of my journey. I was in three different locations, starting with LISBON.

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my hotel, link at bottom

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grilled sardines served on thin toasted cornbread and washed down with wine from the Douro region

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Followed by delicious slices of cheese served with a fruit chutney-marmalade and a generous glass of porto. Typically a sweetish red wine and often served with cheese and desserts, porto also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties.

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roasted cod on chick pea purée

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custard tarts called pasteis de nata. Irresistible.

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imagine an entire city tiled with mosaic sidewalks

Lots more to come! I highly recommend the hotel I stayed at in Lisbon.

http://the-8-down-town-suites-lisbon.hotel-ds.com/en/